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Decision-Making

282: How to Manage Your Attention and Your Priorities with Neen James

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Neen James shares best practices for directing our attention toward meaningful priorities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The fifteen minutes per day that can change everything
  2. Strategies for selecting the worthiest goals
  3. How we often fail to pay good attention to people

About Neen

Neen James is the author of Folding Time™ and Attention Pays™. Named one of Top 30 Leadership Speakers by Global Guru several years in a row because of her work with companies including Viacom, Comcast, and Abbot Pharmaceuticals.

Boundless energy, quick-witted with powerful strategies for paying attention to what matters, Neen shares how to get more done and create more significant moments at work, and home.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Neen James Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Neen, thanks for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Neen James

G’day. What a privilege to be on your show. I love this podcast.
Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. I’m so flattered to be chatting but we met in person a couple years ago in Orlando, and my how the time flies.
Neen James
My goodness. That was several years ago. Your memory is incredible.
Pete Mockaitis
Well, you were very memorable.
Neen James
[Laugh] You’re sweet. That’ll definitely get you points, just for the record.
Pete Mockaitis
Sure. We could flatter each other but I want to get going a little bit. I learned about you that you love fast cars. What’s the story here?
Neen James
Oh my gosh. I love speed and I love the glamour of things like F-1. Formula 1 cars that are insane, right? I love the speed, I love the precision. I love the excitement and I love driving fast cars too. So, I love watching them and I also love driving them.
Pete Mockaitis
So now, do you drive these fast cars? Where do you drive them where you can drive them fast enough, or do you just make do with the speed limit suggestions?
Neen James
Yeah, I’m so fortunate to not get too many speeding tickets. My husband and I live in a beautiful part of Pennsylvania called Bucks County and they have some stunning roads. It’s not even about necessarily the speed in the back roads, Pete. It’s about how beautiful the journey is, but I do love being in a gorgeous fast car too.
Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Have you seen the Netflix series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld?
Neen James
Yes. [laugh]
Pete Mockaitis
I just wondered, who is this for? Who likes all of those things? I like comedians, I like cars and I like coffee. Here’s the show for me.
Neen James
For you and me, that show is perfect.
Pete Mockaitis
I guess they did their research. Netflix, they’re good with their data. Hopefully we’re going to get the direct to consumer insights shortly on the program. We’ll see. We’ve been back and forth, but very cool. Speaking of the use of attention, how’s that for a segue from Netflix. You’ve got this book coming out called Attention Pays. Very clever. Rather than Pay Attention, Attention Pays. Tell us, what’s the main idea and what’s it all about? Why is it important?
Neen James
The reason it’s so important Pete, let’s start with that. It’s because we’re living in this time where we are more distracted than we’ve ever been before. Technology has changed the pace at which we work and we feel what I call in the book, the “over trilogy” – which is overwhelmed, overstressed and overtired, and so many of our listeners can relate to at least one or all of those things. What I’ve realized is we can’t manage time, but we can manage our attention. So what I created through the research and interviews and all my speeches and all the great time I get to spend with my clients and in my executive mentoring, I realized that we pay attention three ways.
Personally, it’s about who we pay attention to and that’s being thoughtful. Professionally, it’s about what we pay attention to and that’s being productive. And globally, it’s about how we pay attention in the world and that’s about being responsible; personally, professionally and globally. The book shares hundreds of strategies that every person in their professional career … and it doesn’t matter if they are working inside a big organization like so many of your listeners, or whether they work for themselves. This will apply.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well. Boy, are you a keynoter perchance laying it out in three key elements?
Neen James
You better believe it.
Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m intrigued to dig into each of those but first, I’d love it if maybe you could orient us a bit in terms of … you mentioned that technology, it’s happening and things are changing. It’s fast paced and all this information and all that, sure. I guess I’m curious to hear just what kind of a difference does it make if you are a master of your attention versus you’re, I guess at the mercy of whoever wants your attention.
Neen James
Let me give you an example of one of my clients. I have the privilege of working with Comcast. I was with the leadership team and what we decided to do was we decided to set them a challenge. Could they invest fifteen minutes in a strategic appointment with themselves every day to master their own attention, identify their top three not negotiable activities? Before their head hits the pillow tonight, what’s their three? The reason we did this with this leadership team is they were responsible for a very large budget with a very large team. We realized that their attention was being pulled in hundreds of directions. I’m sure your listeners can relate to that. What was fascinating about this particular case study that we did was every single leader told me, as a result of investing their attention for fifteen minutes a day, their team development went up, their sales went up and they became the top performing team in the region. This is amazing to me … in their company, my apologies.
What’s amazing to me is that that fifteen minutes which we all could invest, right … Fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes we can find in our calendar, they learned to master a strategic appointment with themselves. I love that idea of just that one fifteen minute appointment every day, and that way too you know what your most important things are that you do today. It drives your productivity and it holds you personally accountable for the results.
Pete Mockaitis
Well Neen, I can’t let that go. Fifteen minutes a day made a transformational difference for these folks, so you must unpack it for us. What’s happening during these fifteen minutes? What’s the prescription?
Neen James
Let me tell you how I do mine, Pete, and this might help the listeners as well. For me what I do is, I make my coffee and I sit down with my … it’s a pretty fancy system. I use a Post-It note admittedly, and what do on that Post-It note is I write at the top “today, I will” and then I determine what are three things that I absolutely must achieve today.
Now these three things will move me closer to my goals. For example, if you work for a company, chances are you have objectives you’re being measured on, on a quarterly or annual basis. It’s a really great idea to identify activities so they’ll bring you closer to those particular goals. If you are a leader who is managing a team of people, no doubt your team has responsibilities that you as their leader need to guide them on. So what are three things you could do today that would move those projects or objectives or results forward?
What this does, Pete, is it becomes a decision filtering system, meaning every time you want to get distracted, every time someone walks into your office, every time you’re tempted to go on social media, you look at your three things. I deliberately write them on a Post-It note and I’ll tell you why. I can carry that silly little Post-It note with me all day and it’s a visual reminder of where my attention needs to be invested, as opposed to some of us … I’ve tried electronic to-do lists, I’ve tried apps, I’ve tried written to-do lists. It’s the one thing that I seem to be able to stick to, but here’s the other thing Pete.
Pete Mockaitis
Stick to! Zing.
Neen James
{Laugh]. I love being able to cross things off. I wonder if you’ve got people on the podcast who will admit that they write things on a to-do list just so they can cross them off, right?
Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. It’s the example I use in my … workshops for judging preference, yes.
Neen James           
It’s true though because we want to know something we did today mattered. If you simplify your day by what we call prioritizing your priorities into those top three not negotiables, you’ll have a much stronger chance of achieving them. Do you remember when Pete Shankman was on the show and he talked about eliminating all the choices? He has such a fantastic way of seeing the world and managing with such a fast brain that he has, but I believe too that we have to be able to get super clear on what’s important today. Otherwise, everyone will very happily take all the time and attention you want to give them but that doesn’t get you closer to your goals.
Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So Neen, I think my challenge with this is … hey, I’m looking at one right now. I’ve got a sheet and I have listed a dozen things and I feel pretty good. They’re all done. Now I’m just chatting with cool people like you for the rest of the day. I’d love to get your take on prioritization is hard, you know? Running three things is a lot harder than running thirteen things. What are some of your pro tips for … first of all, you tell me how strict is it that three is the number. Do not drift into more, or is it a little flexible? How are you thinking about it?
Neen James
For me, I feel like three is a great number that I can remember. Three is a number that I can share with someone else. Three is manageable in my day. Now I could write 23 things on the list Pete, but the challenge with that is then I become overwhelmed and we can become paralyzed with too many choices. Three things means I’ve diligently done the work in my fifteen minute appointment to identify my top three. These are the three things that are going to strategically move me closer. Sometimes, it means we may have to put something like a doctor’s appointment on that list. We might have been putting off a check-up for months and months, but we have to do it. It’s important to our health because if we don’t have good health, then obviously we’re not going to perform at work.
It might be that you’ve got to do a performance review for one of your team members. We’ve been putting it off, putting it off, putting it off. But what happens is every time we put something off, every time we ask our brain to remember something else, it’s like opening a new tab on the computer. Every time you ask your brain to do something, it opens a new tab. The brain craves completion, Pete. Every time we complete something, our brain gives us this little shot of dopamine, like a little high five from our brain, like “Yay Pete, good job.” We need more of that. We need more of that momentum of completion. Choosing three things is manageable.
Pete Mockaitis      
Momentum of completion is an excellent turn of phrase. I’m digging that. I like what you said about the doctor’s appointment. Sometimes I think when I’m setting my three things, it’s almost like the doctor’s appointment is already scheduled. I sort of know that I’m going to exit and go to there, so it almost feels like it doesn’t count in the sense that it is almost like a foregone conclusion that that is just going to occur. I almost feel like it’s cheating, or I haven’t earned that dopamine hit of completion goodness by doing such a thing. I’d love for you to set me straight in terms of what seems appropriate and sensible to put on there, because I think some things you just know you’re going to do. It’s like “I’m going to brush my teeth” or even if you have other great habits like “I know I’m just going to walk on the treadmill. I’m just going to pray. I’m just going to make a healthy lunch.” That’s awesome. Does that count? Do I get credit for that if it’s already a habit, like it’s going to happen whether I write it or not?
Neen James
I think it’s only going to get credit if it enhances a habit you have. If you’re going to walk on the treadmill and you’ve been used to walking and you like walking but you want to challenge yourself to a run, maybe what you think about is “Can I turn this walk on the treadmill into running for half a mile and see how I feel?” It’s also about being able to enhance our performance, Pete. It’s about helping every day for us to be stronger, better, to be able to have life with more excellence, with more fun, to be more thoughtful.
For example, that doctor’s example might be a routine thing you do, but what the doctor might say to you is “I need you to eat more green vegetables or I need you to get your cholesterol in check or I need you to manage your stress.” Then what you want to think about is, the thing that would go on the Post-It note maybe the next day would be “Okay, what are some stress management strategies I need to investigate? Could I invest fifteen minutes of my attention finding a new app or trying a new yoga pose or investing more time praying or in quiet time?” While I’m talking about some personal strategies, the same applies for professional strategies, but here’s the thing. Attention is personal, professional and global. The same person who goes home needs to turn up at work; we need to be the best version of ourselves. We need to be able to pay attention not only to other people, but we have to be able to pay attention to ourself.
Pete Mockaitis
I like those distinctions there in terms of what is moving you toward a meaningful goal, and then two, it’s an enhancement. It’s making you stronger as opposed to, I guess maintaining sort of status quo, habitual, how it is, the current level. It’s like you’re moving into upgrade territory. I think that’s helpful in terms of saying what counts, but I’ll maybe even back it up a little bit for you to arrive at three things that matter, you need to get some clarity on the goals, the macro objectives and priorities that are worth pursuing. What’s your take on doing that well?
Neen James
Think about it. If you’re a listener and you want to get promoted, there might be activities that are going to get you more in line with the opportunity to be promoted. For example, you may need to identify your successor. Who is the person you’re going to train and upscale, so that you could get promoted into a new role? You might have to become your own publicist and start to be able to communicate the evidence of why you’d be a great person to be promoted. Maybe you’ve got to start to enhance your skills by doing additional internal learning programs or external study.
The beauty of knowing if your goal is to get promoted at work because you’re awesome at your job, what you want to think about is what do I need to do to get promoted? What are the things that I have to improve, enhance or educate? What you can then do is put those types of things on your list. I have this saying that I want to be “Ah-mazing,” because I want to wake up every day and go “Oh, that’s amazing.” I want to be in awe and wonder on a daily basis, whether it’s serving a client, whether it’s travelling somewhere new or whether it’s looking after one of my team. Every day, I want us to think about how can we invest our attention at being even more “ah-mazing,” and in your case, awesome. How can we be more awesome at our jobs? We have to look for these things that we want to focus our attention on, because time’s going to happen whether you like it or not Pete.
You and I get the same 1,440 minutes in a day. You can’t manage time but you can manage your attention.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m right with you there. Final point on the three and I’ll move on. We talk about time and the minutes we have available. I want to get your take on when you establish the three, you want the momentum of completion – great turn of phrase. I’m wondering, you don’t want to be too easy in terms of “Hey, these are three important things but I’m going to knock them out in twenty minutes, bam!” You don’t want them too hard because then you don’t get that momentum of completion. It’s just not getting done, so how do you think about calibrating that well?
Neen James
I think it depends on your day. Sometimes, just the fact that we get to work out and eat a healthy meal and actually get to bed before midnight, that’s a big day for some of us. Sometimes, just getting that report to our boss or being able to answer all those e-mails or to get to every meeting on time, sometimes that feels like an achievement. While it’s hard to prescribe for people what is going to be easy or what is going to be hard, what I want you to think about is the question to yourself is “Will this make me more awesome at my job?” If it’s going to make you more awesome at your job, then I think that’s something that’s worth investing in. Will it make you more awesome as a team member? Will it make you more awesome as a partner with people you share your life with? Will it make you more awesome in your community for the people that you stand in service of, whether it’s your church, your temple, your parent teacher community, your alumni? I think with these three things, you know in your gut whether you are pushing yourself or not. Some days feel like survival and some days feel like success. You get to choose.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. When it comes to these disruptions, distractions that would take our attention away from where we want to put it, maybe you could orient us a little bit in terms of what are some of the best approaches to keep your defenses appropriately operational, so that you are not getting overwhelmed by distraction.
Neen James
I think we have to identify what the distractions are first, Pete. Some people, we feel like our devices are a distraction and for many of us, they are. It’s the notifications, it’s the phone ring or it could be just the fact that we get a little bored and so we by default go check our Facebook status instead of paying attention in a meeting. For some, distractions include our devices. For others, distractions could be that you constantly have people interrupt you in your cube or your office, where people are constantly walking in saying “Do you have a second? Do you have a minute?” There’s never a second and there’s never a minute.
Other distractions can be ourself. We can be sometimes the worst at managing our own attention, because we open up a website and then that takes us to another website which takes us to another website, and then twenty minutes have gone by and we’ve achieved nothing.
So, distractions can come in the form of technology. They can come in the form of our own head traffic, some of our fears, concerns and stressors. The first thing we need to do is identify what those distractions are and then look to how to eliminate them. What I tend to use is some of my favorite tools. For example, one of my favorite apps is called Freedom. Freedom is an app that I can install on all of my Mac and my iPhone, which is a website blocking app, which means if I’m trying to get very dedicated focused amount of activity done or I’m writing a proposal or I’m preparing a keynote speech, it literally blocks me out of websites. It’s really powerful because you can set it up for short or long periods of time. I love using tools like that that will help me stay very focused.
I also have an actual cover on my phone. What I realized was, sometimes just seeing that something’s happening on my phone was enough of a distraction so I got an actual cover which covers the screen. There are little ways that you can become much more diligent in the way you manage your distractions – turning off every notification, closing windows you’re not really using, being able to cover devices, maybe leaving things like your cell phone outside the meeting room so you can pay attention in the meeting. Maybe when you’re driving, leave it in your bag or in the glove compartment so that you’re not actually tempted to check it.
We have to think about the fact that if for example we have an office, could you occasionally shut the door and then tell the team “When my door is shut, I’m trying to work on a project.” If you don’t have the luxury of an office in your particular workplace, could you use headphones in your cubicle and just say to your team “Hey if I have my headphones on, I’m just trying to get something completed.” We’ve got to start to create strategies for this continual state of distraction we live in.
Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that. Any pro tips for communicating that to a boss or others who think that they have the right to take your attention whenever they please?
Neen James
I think it’s a conversation. You’ve got to be a grown-up and you’ve got to say to your boss or your team member or your colleague that you really enjoy spending time with, “In order for me to be really productive, there’s occasionally times where I need to be hyper focused. My way of being hyper focused is by putting my headphones on, or booking a conference room on another floor, or coming in maybe twenty minutes later so I can sit at the local Starbucks and get my day really prioritized. But having agreements with your team and then being able to honor that, it’s kind of like a “Do Not Disturb” sign. I have done this with manufacturing clients, with pharmaceutical clients, with media clients, where they have created internal team versions of Do Not Disturb. So one of my media clients in New York, they have these little signs on the back of their chair and it’s like red and green.
If it’s red and you walk up to their chair, that’s their internal version of Do Not Disturb. One of my pharmaceutical clients has these little soft cush balls that they sit on their monitor. If you walk up to their monitor, you can see this tiny soft cush ball which is their internal Do not Distrub sign, and the team have become so good at not interrupting each other. We have to think through what’s going to work for you, what’s going to work for your team.
Pete Mockaitis
I like that so much. It reminds me of this Brazilian steakhouse with the red and the green.
Neen James
Oh yeah, exactly! Same thing.
Pete Mockaitis
Bring me delicious meat versus “No thank you, I’m satisfied for now.”
Neen James
[Laugh] I love it.
Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. It’s really fun how that does become sort of normative and folks can all respect it. I suppose they will know if they need to … if there’s a true emergency that requires an overriding of the indicator. One of my favorite things, you talk about headphones … this might be overboard but I like my Bose noise cancelling headphones and then I have earplugs on inside them.
Neen James
Oh really? That’s amazing, so no one can penetrate the sound barrier.
Pete Mockaitis
It really is. Sometimes I’ll be startled like “Ah, there you are. I had no idea.” That does happen sometimes and then it’s sort of fun. If you remove an earplug, it’s kind of like “Whoa, this guy.” For better or for worse, I don’t know what exactly the message that sends out, whether this guy’s a freak, he’s a real weirdo and/or “Whoa, that dude was focused. Maybe I should carefully think if it’s essential that I interrupt this flow state.”
Neen James
I think that we need to understand what works for us doesn’t always work for everyone else, and we need to communicate more actively about where we need to be able to focus our attention and how others can help us as well. It does require great grown-up conversations, but it will totally increase your productivity.
Pete Mockaitis
Very nice. In terms of our overall capacity to pay attention, I hear all these stats like “our attention span has shrunk from twelve seconds to eight seconds.” I still don’t quite know how that’s being measured. I want to dig into that study one of these days, but tell us what are some approaches to improve our very mental ability to pay attention?
Neen James
Let’s just start with the fact that no one actually had evidence that our attention span is shrinking. No one had evidence that when you have the attention span of a goldfish … I mean who wants to be compared to a goldfish? It’s crazy town. Every piece of research we tried to find where people were actually measuring true adult attention spans wasn’t happening. I think what happens is Pete, our attention is split.
We have to be aware that we are splitting our attention, and what that means is we have to then think about for us to really pay attention in a more profitable way, in a more productive way, in a more thoughtful way, we have to think about who’s in front of us right now and how much of our attention do they need or deserve at that point in time. What really needs our attention and what do we need to do to be able to progress that particular task, activity or conversation? And then how are we going to show people we’re paying attention? That could be the simplicity of looking someone in the eye when they’re talking. It could be the simplicity of taking notes so that you don’t forget what is being said. It might be the opportunity to ask a question to see if you really understand what the person is sharing with you. We’ve got to be able to be more diligent.
My little five year old friend gave me the best lesson in this. If anyone has a five year old listening to this, you know what it’s like to try and debate with a five year old. My friend Donovan and I were in a very heated debate and then at one point, he grabbed up to me. He was so annoyed. He and I were kind of discussing something. He thought I wasn’t paying attention to him. He jumped up to meet me. He grabbed my tiny face in his tiny little hands, he turned it towards him and he said “Me, listen with your eyes.” He was five years old. That wisdom from a child has totally changed the way that I pay attention, where we have to show people we’re listening with our eyes.
Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I’d love for you to expand upon that. I guess that means that you’re looking at them and not sort of trailing off, and what else in extremely specific tactical terms?
Neen James
One of the things we found was there were a couple of studies that were done where people were experimenting with a device on the table, and whether people trusted you if you had your device on the table, whether they felt like they were being valued. It was interesting in all these different research studies that we were looking at, that people often trust you less, that they feel less important with you if they can see your device. What they’re thinking is, there’s someone else who needs your attention or you’re going to default to your device instead of paying attention in that conversation.
So we need to think about all of the things that potentially pull on our attention too, whether it is maybe people working in an open plan office, so there’s constant noise and smells and sounds and laughter and music and conversations all around us. Maybe it is when we’re meeting with someone, what’s happening in the conference room as far as if we’re letting someone dial in. Do they really get our attention? Do we include them? Do we involve them? Listening with our eyes is not just the physical act of looking someone in the eye, but in a virtual world we also have to think about when we reply to an email Pete, do we really answer the question or the concern that was addressed? Do we truly listen to the webinar?
Do we listen in on the teleconference and provide an answer at the appropriate time? When you think about how much we don’t pay attention, it’s fascinating. I think we live in a time where we are paying attention, but just not paying attention to the right people, the right things, the right way.
Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. I think that really gets you thinking in terms of just being intentional then with regard to … I think about these teleconferences where folks are not paying attention and you’re advocating to pay full attention. That makes me think, maybe these teleconferences I shouldn’t be in the first place.
Neen James
Yes, sometimes it means declining a meeting. Sometimes that’s the best use of your attention. In the book, we talk about intentional attention. It’s the choices we make and the actions we take. I use the word leader, whether you are yourself personally leading a team of people or whether you are a leader. As leaders, we have a responsibility to be intentional with our attention because it’s intention that makes attention valuable.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Neen, tell me anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some your favorite things.
Neen James
We think we’re paying attention but we’re not, and I just want to challenge our listeners going back to those three things – can we pay attention to the right people, the right things, the right way? Use that as a filter when you catch yourself not paying attention with intention.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Neen James
I love when Oliver Wendell Holmes “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.” I love that.
Pete Mockaitis
And tell me, have you found particular ideas stretched your mind a whole lot that you’d care to share here now?
Neen James
I think it probably goes to my favorite book, which is called The Thought Leaders Practice written by Matt Church who was an early mentor and now a business partner. In Thought Leaders Practice, he talks about how we can really demonstrate our ideas with visual tools and how we can position our expertise, whether we are internal corporate person or an external entrepreneur. I think for me, it’s this ability to show people what message you’re trying to share with them. I love contextual modeling and that’s something that I’ve become fascinated with.
Pete Mockaitis      
Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?
Neen James
There are so many that I was looking at for my Attention Pays book. I found it really hard to narrow it down. What I think is really important if we want to be more awesome in the way we pay attention is that we become our own study and start to study ourselves on how we’re showing up, how we’re paying attention and then seeing how we can change that.
I don’t have one particular one but I am quite fascinated with how each of us pays attention to ourselves, so maybe we become our own study.
Pete Mockaitis      
How about a favorite book?
Neen James
The Thought Leaders Practice by Matt Church. I’d probably go back to that one. That is definitely one of my favorites and it’s one that I go back to time and time and time again. The other one that I love is at the completely different end of the scale, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown.
Pete Mockaitis      
Yes, thank you. How about a favorite tool?
Neen James
I go back to two apps. One would be Freedom app I mentioned earlier in the interview, and the other one would be Text Expander. It is my all time favorite and I use it every day multiple times a day.
Pete Mockaitis      
Completely agree, and they were also our first sponsor so thank you Text Expander.
Neen James
Great job, they’re amazing.
Pete Mockaitis
Agreed. How about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you be awesome?
Neen James
I write Thank You notes every day. I find one reason to write one Thank you note, whether it’s while I’m traveling to housekeeping, whether it’s a client that I’ve had the privilege of serving, whether it’s a barista who’s made me an amazing coffee or whether it’s someone that I really care about in my personal life. I make sure that I write one Thank You note every day.
Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How long are these thank you notes? How long does it take? Do you have a system?
Neen James
I do carry stamp stationery with me everywhere so I always have them in my bag. I always have them at my desk and I have them in my car, so the system is keep stamp stationary with you all the time.
Pete Mockaitis
This can only happen in the morning or the afternoon or evening?
Neen James
I have a deal with myself. I don’t go to bed until one’s written. Sometimes it’s a little bit messy late at night, but generally speaking they happen throughout the day.
Pete Mockaitis
All right. Is there a particular nugget, a piece that you share that tends to really resonate and connect with folks and gets quoted back to you, a Neen original piece of brilliance?
Neen James
Listen with your eyes.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay, and Neen is there a particular place where you’d like folks to learn more. If they want to get in touch, where would you point them?
Neen James
There’s only one Neen James online. If you go to NeenJames.com, you’ll find everything you need and you can follow me on social media at Neen James.
Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their job?
Neen James
I want you to invest fifteen minutes in an appointment with yourself and I want you to try this every work day. Identify your top three not negotiable activities before your head hits the pillow that night. Try it for me for one week. I guarantee your productivity will increase.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Neen, thank you so much for sharing this. It was fun to reconnect after some years and you’re continuing to rock and roll and make a huge difference. This was a lot of fun, thank you.
Neen James
It was a privilege. Thank you for everything you do in the world. This podcast makes such a difference to people to allow them to be awesome at their job and pay attention to what matters.

281: Making Better Decisions by Thinking in Bets with Annie Duke

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World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke shares her insights into making better, more informed decisions in an unpredictable world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How thinking in bets reframes your decision-making
  2. Why to distinguish between the quality and outcome of a decision
  3. Three fun rules for better decision-making groups

About Annie

Annie Duke is a woman who has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking. For two decades, Annie was one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded the National Science Foundation Fellowship. Because of this fellowship, she studied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Annie Duke Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Annie, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Annie Duke
Well, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited because I cannot think of any other guests I’ve seen on TV prior to interviewing. Well, maybe Dan Harris, the news anchor but, yeah, you and Dan, that’s it.

Annie Duke
Well, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so great to have you here. And so tell us, I noticed when we were kind of getting situated, you mentioned that you prefer to not keep score when you’re playing tennis. What’s the backstory there?

Annie Duke
Oh. Well, so, I grew up in a family where there was a lot of competition going on. My father is a really competitive guy. He, in fact, was quite an accomplished regional amateur tennis player, lots and lots of championships. And I used to play cards with my brother and my father, and my brother was older than I was and so I didn’t do a lot of winning but I really wanted to win.

And then, obviously, when I was playing poker it’s a very competitive environment. When I retired from poker in 2012, I just, I don’t know, I started seeking out situations where it felt much more sort of win-win as opposed to zero-sum. So when I played tennis with people, although they don’t always comply, I ask not to keep score.

I mean, like we’ll keep score for a game because I think that’s just important because there is strategically, obviously, it really matters within a game how you’re playing, but in terms of the sort of overall score, who won or lost, I try not to focus on that too much and try to think about, “How can I improve my game strategically?”

What I usually do with anybody that I’m playing tennis with is I usually drag them to my tennis lessons because I feel like if they’re better then I get better. And the games that I play with my kids tend not be very win-lossy, so like one of our favorites is apples to apples, it’s just sort of hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Is the card game hilarious comparisons and so, yes, I do like that.

Annie Duke
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny, I thought you were going to say you don’t like keeping score at tennis because it’s so weird. Was it 15 and 30 and 40? I never understood that but maybe it makes somehow to someone.

Annie Duke
I bet the French could explain it. I think that that’s where it started. That is strange. No, yeah, it’s just that I’m sort of thinking about it more as, “What can I do to improve my game regardless of whether winning or losing, it’s the person that’s across the court from me?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so I’m pretty intrigued by your book called Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. That sounds perfect for what we’re about here, sharpening universal skills for professionals. That’s a big thing that comes up a lot. So tell us, what’s sort of the main idea behind the book and what led you to write it here and now?

Annie Duke
Yeah, thanks for asking me that. So the main idea of the book is that we act like the results of our decisions and the quality of our decisions are really closely linked. So we think that the world is a much more predictable place than it actually is, and we aren’t really acknowledging how much uncertainty there is, that how much it’s the case that you can make really good decisions and have very bad outcomes, because of them you could make very, very bad decisions and have really good outcomes because of them.

And not only do we not acknowledge how much uncertainty there is in that which really stems from sort of two places. One is luck, that even if you make a perfect decision there’s still luck involved in how the future unfolds. But also hidden information is another place where there’s a lot of uncertainty, meaning there’s lots of information that’s hidden from you, there’s just lots and lots of things that we don’t know or can’t know as we’re trying to make decisions.

So decision quality is really dependent on how much are we taking into account luck but also what do we know, like what do we know as we’re trying to make that decision? And we don’t acknowledge or kind of admit to how much uncertainty there is. We’re much more sure of the things that we believe than we probably should be, and we’re much more sure about how the future will turn out than it should be.

And as the title might suggest, one of the things and ways that I think about that is to say, “Let’s start thinking about things through the frame of thinking in bets,” because when we’re challenged to a bet, what it does is it really exposes the uncertainty and whatever it is that we’ve just been challenged to bet on even something really simple.

Like if I were to say, “Citizen Kane won Best Picture,” and you said, “Wanna bet?” All of a sudden, I would step back and say, “Hold on a second, maybe I’m not so sure of that.” It exposes the uncertainty. And if we can expose the uncertainty more, we’ll be better decision-makers because it’s just more accurate to how the world is.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Annie, that’s so good and there’s so much I want to dig into there. So you say that we should make a distinction between the quality of a decision and the outcome of a decision. That is very wise and simple and yet I think totally overlooked. Could you expand on that a little bit?

Annie Duke
Yeah, sure. So I think that we kind of – we sort of know when we talk about it in the abstract that you can have a bad outcome as a result of a good decision, and a good outcome as a result of a bad decision. So, I mean, just sort of in the abstract. If I say to you, “When you run red lights do you sometimes get through safely.” You say, “Yes,” which is obviously a good outcome.

And if I asked you if that was a good decision, you would agree, no. And if you run green lights, obviously, you can get to an accident. So, just because, you know, if you’ve been at a bar and you choose to drive after you’ve had one too many, and you get home safely, which is a good outcome, I imagine that you’ll agree with me that that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good decision.

So in the abstract we kind of get this. The problem is that our behavior doesn’t really get this. So one of the examples that I gave in the book that I actually open the book with has to do with the 2015 Super Bowl. And Pete Carroll’s Sea Hawks, at the one-yard line, The New England Patriots, they’re down by four, it’s second down and they have one timeout.

So what happens there? It’s a very famous play. Pete Carroll has Russell Wilson throw a pass, that was someone unexpected. They were expecting him to hand off to Marshawn Lynch. He throws the pass and Malcolm Butler intercepts the pass in the end zone and, obviously, the game is over. So this is clearly a disastrous result.

But what you see is that people don’t behave as if it’s that abstraction of, “Well, did he run a red light or did he run a green light in order to get to that disastrous result?” Instead, people just announce that this is a horrible decision.

Chris Collinsworth, during the game, really, really slams the decision, and then the next day, in the headlines, it’s really not an argument about whether there was some sort of method to that madness, it’s, “Was it the worst decision in Super Bowl history or the worst decision in NFL history?” Period.

Pete Mockaitis
Those are choices.

Annie Duke
Those are the choices. So, we can get into it if you want but I would highly recommend people go read what, for example, Benjamin Morris wrote about this on Slate, to see that there’s a lot of good analysis that suggest that this actually was a pretty mathematically good decision. Bill Belichick himself, by the way, has said that he agrees that it was a good call.

The one thing I will throw out there is that the chance of an interception, over the last 15 years in the NFL, was only about 1% to 2%. In fact, in that particular situation, zero balls had been intercepted during the course of the season. So I think that we can just sort of have this jumping off point that if an interception was such a rare occurrence that that in itself suggest that maybe the decision-making couldn’t have been the worst in Super Bowl history. And yet everybody acted like it did.

Certainly, the pundits the next day, the newspapers did, most football fans agreed that this was a really terrible decision even though the chances of this really bad outcome were so low. And it seems like you could really make an argument that that was just quite unlucky. So that’s obviously a football example. But everywhere in the world, even though in the abstract we kind of understand this concept that outcome quality and decision quality are pretty loosely correlated.

We don’t act like that. We act like once we know the outcome that we can see right into the quality of the decision and that those two things are very tightly linked.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, yeah. I think that that’s connecting. And I want to hear maybe sometimes where, so that’s a football example, maybe like in the professional world or careers or executives or business, like where this sort of conflation occurs again and again and it’s bad news.

Annie Duke
Sure. I mean, I’ll give you a variety of examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Annie Duke
Right. You hire someone and they don’t work out, “Ugh, I can’t believe. We should’ve known that was such a bad hire.” That would be an example. You launched a product and the product fails, “I should’ve known it. That was a terrible product to launch. Why did I do that? That was so ridiculous.” Here’s the opposite. You hire someone and they turn out great, “I’m so good at that.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m a brilliant judge of talent.”

Annie Duke
Right. “I’m a brilliant of judge of talent. You should bring me in for every hiring discussion we ever have or vice versa.” And I gave a pretty detailed example actually in the book following the football example from business, where a CEO that I was working with was really down on himself for what he thought was a horrible decision that he had made about a year prior to my working with him.

And he had just a president of one of his subsidiaries, and the subsidiary was underperforming compared to the market. “What I knew at the beginning was I fired him, and I haven’t been able to replace him and it’s been a total disaster, and it was such a bad decision to fire this president of this subsidiary.”

And I said, “Well, gosh, you haven’t given me enough information to know whether that was actually a bad decision because all you’ve told me is that it didn’t work out. So why don’t you tell me some of the things about the decision?”

And as we walked through the decision, and they were the kinds of things you might imagine. Like I asked if they had worked to identify skill gaps, if they had tried to fill the skill gaps, had they hired a coach in order to really work with the president, had they looked at the rest of the market to see whether they thought there was a good available talent pool to hire from which obviously would be important in that decision.

It turned out that not only had they done all that and thought about those consequences, but then they had actually even considered splitting the job into two so that that president could actually be sitting where their strengths were and then they could hire somebody else into where the skill gaps were. And they had decided that that actually wasn’t a good idea from morale reasons but also just financially, obviously, now you’re essentially paying for two presidents when they thought, given their experience in making high-level hires, that paying for one person would really do.

So it seemed like a really thoughtful decision that hadn’t worked out. And he’d been really beating himself up for a year, and it was affecting his future decisions because he had linked this together so tightly. So it’s a problem that we call resulting and you can see why it’s called resulting. It’s taking the quality of the results and working backwards to the quality of the decision in a way that it’s using it as too much of a signal for that.

And he had been resulting for the last year and it was really affecting his decision-making going forward and put him in a really bad place to sort of morale-wise and psychology-wise. So this is actually a really important problem to be able to sort of address.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, resulting, there is a word, you know, it sounds like a good thing when you say it, “Yeah, results are great, and the root form of that was to be also great.” But, no, no, you’re saying that is kind of a form of cognitive bias or suboptimal mental work there.

Annie Duke
Yes, exactly. You know, I think we think that when we’re results-oriented that that’s a good thing. It turns out that maybe being process-oriented would be a better thing and trying not to be as caught up in the results. And the main reason why is that when we’re analyzing a given decision we’re only analyzing that one decision.

We haven’t run Monte Carlo where we get to sort of do a computer simulation of that whoever we’ve hired or whoever we’ve decided to let go 10,000 times in order to dig down into what the actual answer might be. And it’s very hard to know just from the result whether we’re in a kind of Pete Carroll decision where a one-percenter hit, or whether we actually made a decision which 80% of the time wasn’t going to work out well so that the result was actually quite expected.

The problem is all of that is kind of hidden from view. It goes back to what I said about these two sources of uncertainty, there’s the luck element, and we don’t have a lot of control over that obviously, and then there’s this information element, you know, “What are we taking into account? What kind of information are we gathering in the process of the decision?”

And it’s hard to know after the fact where we’re supposed to sort of lay the blame for or maybe even not blame for the decision for the way that it had turned out on both sides whether it turns out well or whether it doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, so I guess I’m wondering, in your example of the executive, it seems like he internalized something about that decision and how it turned out and what it means for him and his abilities. And so I’d like to get your take on sort of what is the optimal practices or approach to learn from your prior bets and to be sharpened and more brilliant each time you make another bet?

Annie Duke
Well, I think that the first step, I mean, there’s kind of a lot to this so let’s try to unpack it a little bit at a time because I think there’s a lot here. So let’s start with the first step is to change your thinking from viewing decisions as right or wrong in the first place. So let’s start with the idea that right and wrong are kind of a bad construct through which to look at the world.

So what do I mean by that? Well, you know, there’s some luck and there’s some skill involved in every decision and even if we make a decision that’s pretty good, maybe there’s a better decision to be made. So the second worse decision isn’t wrong. You know, it’s better than the worse decision that you could make, and the second best decision isn’t necessarily right.

And even if you make the best decision that’s available to you, in the future you might find out that there was other information that was available that could’ve even made that decision better. So once we start viewing things through this idea that we’re kind of always in this under construction or in progress phase, what happens now is that when we now get an outcome that’s either good or bad, which is another place which where maybe we can understand that outcomes aren’t 100% good or 100% bad, right, so we can do this here as well.

But once we get an outcome and we kind of know the quality of the outcome, we’re much less likely to use that to sort of make some sort of categorical claim about the decision, and rather take it as evidence or as an impetus to go in and examine the quality of the decision that we understood was in progress or under construction in the first place.

So, and I think that one of the best ways that we can see why this is valuable is in terms of beliefs. So beliefs are always informing the decisions that we make. So, I mean, if we think about the CEO, he had beliefs about what the talent pool looked like if he was going to go out and try to recruit somebody into that job as an example, right? So that would be the kind of belief that he might have.

He had beliefs about whether, after what he had done, the skill gaps that still needed to be reinforced were able to be sort of patched up for that CEO. So there’s all sorts of beliefs that inform any decision that we have. And if we view our beliefs as right and wrong as opposed to in progress, as we’re just trying to move toward an accurate model of what is actually the objective truth, then what happens is that it becomes very difficult to be open-minded to new information and also to be hungry for new information because you’re just either wrong or right.

So if you’ve got yourself in a category of right there’s nothing new to be learned and you’re not going to be open-minded to other people who might hold a different point of view because naturally they’re wrong. And if you’re wrong, you might completely reverse a belief where parts of that belief or some percentage of that belief was actually a pretty accurate view of the world.

So I like to think about wrapping that uncertainty in as the first step to trying to solve for this because then you aren’t as hungry for the answer in the first place. It’s more like, “It didn’t work out. Hmm, that’s kind of an interesting data point. I can bring that back in to look at the decision.” As opposed to, “Well, that was just terrible. I should’ve known. That was awful.” And now all of a sudden you’re just reversing something completely that shouldn’t be reversed in the first place.

So that would be the first place that I would start.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. So it’s not like we’re not open and shut and done with it having seen a good or bad or spectrum of optimal to slightly less optimal, you know, outcome. But rather that is sort of a starting point, “Interesting. We have one data point and we’re going to dig in further,” rather than saying, “Okay, that’s that.”

Annie Duke
Right. And I think that you can think about it this way. because in places where we really know where the luck sits, I think it becomes easier to reason around this. So we want to think about our outcomes more like we would think about the outcome of a coin flip that if you have 10,000 coin flips there’s a lot that you can say about the coin, that it will land heads 50% of the time it will land tails 50% of the time.

But if I flip a coin once, and I called tails, and it lands heads, hopefully you aren’t saying that I’m really bad at calling coins. Likewise, if I flip a coin and I call heads and it lands heads, I hope that you’re not saying that I’m really good at calling coins because it’s only one outcome. And for most of the kinds of outcomes that we have in our lives, we can’t collect 10,000 of them. We only get to have a few, a handful of them.

I mean, for some things like choosing your partner. Hopefully, you’ve only done that, you only do that once. But even so, like the craziest person it might be four times which still isn’t enough to tell very much about whether you’re actually good at that or not.

You’re generally not making 10,000 hires into the exact same position in your whole life as a, you know, if you’re in HR, that kind of thing. So we want to be careful about how much signal we’re taking from an outcome in the first place. And, again, this is a place where in the abstract people seem to be better with this. When I describe this coin flip problem, people say, “Yes, of course, it would be silly for me not to acknowledge the uncertainty in a coin flip, and to think that just because it landed heads one time or tails one time that I’m supposed to know something more than that was just luck.”

And we want to try to treat our life’s decisions and our life outcomes a little bit more like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Annie, now you got my wheels turning a little bit because, you know, there is a decision that I make again and again, I’ve made about 300 times, well, 300 times in the affirmative, and that is, “Which guest comes on the show?” And you made the cut, Annie. Nice work.

Annie Duke
Well, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And so I guess I’m thinking, “Well, hey, I am making this decision hundreds of times.” So we talked a little bit about the mindset associated with not being binary and trying to be curious and interested and to learn from it. So if you do find yourself in such a position, what are some best practices to keep getting better and better at it?

Annie Duke
Well, I think it’s to be open-minded to try to learn from what’s working and what’s not and understand that whenever you decide that it’s always going to be a working hypothesis, so that when new information comes in that doesn’t necessarily conform to your working hypothesis, that you just don’t reject it as not actually being informative.

So let me try to explain what I mean by that. So let’s say that you have guests come on the show, and you have a guest come on who does analytics. Right. Okay. And he’s a terrible guest. So you might now have a working hypothesis that people who are in analytics are terrible guests. So that’s what you don’t want to do, is say, “Well, now, I’ve just made this decision and so I’m not going to invite anybody who’s in analytics anymore because I’ve now made this hypothesis based on the one guest.”

What you want to be, as much as possible, be open-minded to what are the qualities, what are the actual qualities in the guest that actually make them great on the podcast, and what are the things that are signals that maybe they might not be such good guests. And while you might have working hypothesis about why that is, you should always be trying to do some A/B testing, right, and try to disprove yourself, number one, right?

And number two, be open-minded when someone doesn’t fit the mold that maybe you need to re-jig your model. So I think what’s important, even when you do have 300 guests because you are choosing them one at a time, is to make sure that you don’t become rigid in whatever your hypothesis is. Don’t think that the facts that you’re observing and the way that you’ve modeled it is an answer like two plus two equals four as an answer.

Again, always treat it from that standpoint of uncertainty that you have a hypothesis, a working hypothesis that is in progress and under construction so that you are much more open as you have new experiences that might inform your future choices.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And you know what? I like that notion of being open-minded and humble because I’ve been surprised both ways, you know, of my guests, I mean, I thought that would just be smash hits in terms of his downloads, if that’s the outcome we’re measuring, and they weren’t, and those who I thought, “Okay, you know, that was a good chat. We’ll see,” who really were record-breakers. And so it’s fascinating to see, and I think that’s useful, I think just to realize, “Huh, I am wrong a lot. How about that?”

Annie Duke
Well, let me just suggest something that maybe you’re not wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. There you go. I did it. I did it. I’m guilty.

Annie Duke
You did it. See? So let’s think about it this way. Maybe, given the information that you have and the past guests that you’ve had on, and the categories that you know that your audience really enjoys listening to, and the information that you had about the guest, you made literally the best decision that you could in inviting them on. And it just happened not to work out.

Because I think that you can agree that even if you have the best information, you know, the most information that you can, and a lot of experience, and you’ve accumulated a lot of experience and expertise in inviting a guest on, that it’s never 100% sure that that guest is going to be a hit. There’s always some percentage of the time that it’s just going to turn out that they aren’t what people wanted to listen to, or there wasn’t chemistry between the two of you perhaps. Maybe they were a great guest on a different podcast but it didn’t work out with you or vice versa.

And so saying, “Ooh, I was wrong.” I’m not sure that that’s constructive, instructive rather, right? Maybe it’s, “Huh, that was really interesting. Let me think if there was some sort of thing that I could’ve seen that would’ve helped me come to that conclusion.” And if there wasn’t, well, then maybe you just had bad luck.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Annie, this is so humbling and powerful, I’m like meta in real time. It’s like we just talked about the right and wrong thing, and here I am going right there. And so I think that’s just illustrative for me and hopefully for listeners, not so much that, “Pete is a moron and who doesn’t listen.”

Annie Duke
No. No.

Pete Mockaitis
But rather, we have it really ingrained in us, this right and wrong notion. It’s just like our natural default setting.

Annie Duke
Well, I think that this brings up a really good point. So, you know, I’m listening, too, and, of course, I heard you do it, and so I said, well, maybe what you can do is if a guest doesn’t work out, instead of saying that you were wrong, try to figure out if there was something more that you could’ve found out about them that would’ve helped you to have predict it, right? So try to sort of figure out what you could’ve learned from that experience as opposed to calling yourself wrong.

Now I don’t know for sure but you may catch me saying wrong or right as well. And the reason is that this stuff is really hard. Just as you said, we’re sort of hardwired into this very black and white thinking, we’re very hardwired to connect outcomes to decision quality, to declare ourselves or somebody else wrong, or ourselves or somebody else right. And it’s really, really hard to overcome particularly on your own. It’s hard to spot in ourselves.

The good news is, and this is sort of again getting down and to digging down into that question you asked about, “How can we help make this better?” is that we’re pretty good at spotting it in other people. So it’s not surprising that I spotted it in you. It’s easy to see that. If I had made the same declaration, “Oh, well, I’m wrong all the time.” You’d say, “But wait a minute, Annie, you just said why you’re thinking about things as right and wrong?” because you would’ve spotted in me immediately as well.

So that’s the hint is that on your own it’s very hard to overcome these biases. The science is pretty strong on that that it’s hard to overcome on your own. But in groups, now that’s a different story. In groups we can really help each other out because we can watch each other’s information processing and decision-making facts, let’s put it that way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So when it comes to groups do you have a couple of tips on best practices to leverage that well? Because I guess group think can still happen where don’t need any of that benefit.

Annie Duke
Yeah, so we definitely want to be careful of creating a situation where the group is essentially ourselves on steroids.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re so smart, Annie. I love every idea you have.

Annie Duke
Thank you. But that’s kind of, we know, gosh, I mean, in looking at what’s happening in politics right now, we know that that is our natural tendency is to kind of go to this confirmatory style of thought. So it does take some intention on the group’s part.

So here’s number one. Make sure there’s three of you at least not two. And the reason why you want three of you at least not two, is that, I’m going to steal this from Phil Tetlock who wrote an amazing book called Superforecasting which I would highly recommend to anybody. You want two to disagree and one to referee. So it’s very helpful to have a referee involved. So try to get three. If you can get more that’s better.

And then what you want to do is actually explicitly make an agreement with the people in the group that you are going to interact with each other in a way that actually goes against what the normal, the kind of social norms are, the way that we normally interact with each other.

So normally we sort of want to be team players and we want to build consensus and we want to be agreeable, right? We want to be people who aren’t the naysayers. And, obviously, when we do that, that creates this kind of, that’s much more likely to create this kind of echo chamber-y group think kind of thing going on.

So here’s what I suggest is. As an agreement within the group, you agree to three things. Thing number one is that your goal is going to be accuracy. Now, what does that mean? That you are saying, “As a group we’re going to help each other to work on the focus being less about being right and more about being accurate.” What’s the difference between the two because they sound obviously the same?

We can think about being right as, “I have these beliefs, I think that the world is a certain way and I’m going to reason about the world in a way that’s just going to confirm what I already believe.” So you can think about it this way. Like if you have a very strongly held political belief that you’re noticing all sorts of things that conform with the beliefs that you have, you tend to be reading news sources, or watching television channels, news stations that already agree with you. So your views are being reinforced.

And then on the flipside, you’re not actually noticing or seeking out information that disagrees with you. And if you’re confronted with the information that disagrees with you, you’re pretty good at trying to discredit it.

Pete Mockaitis
“Now, that research was funded by, you know, someone who is biased so we can’t trust it.”

Annie Duke
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m going to dismiss it wholeheartedly.”

Annie Duke
Right. Or, “I know this person is really biased in their thinking so, clearly, they’re not telling me the whole story.” And what is that? That’s really saying, “Well, that person disagrees with me so I’m just going to say that their opinion is invaluable because of that.”

And this is the way that we tend to process the world, right? So if you’re on the Liberal side of the aisle you tend to be watching MSNBC. If you’re on the very Conservative side of the aisle, you tend to be watching FOX News, and that’s kind of where you stay. And if you did go and take a peek at MSNBC, you would figure out all the ways that what they were saying was biased, and if you did go to take a peek at FOX News, you would figure out all the reasons why what they were saying was biased. And that’s just kind of the way we process the world.

And it’s true certainly outside of politics as well. When we have a particular strategy about how we think that marketing should be done, people who don’t think the same thing as us we tend to be very dismissive about. And vice versa, we think they’re wrong. So we aren’t very open-minded to things that don’t conform with the beliefs that we already have. So that’s reasoning about the world to be right.

The reason why someone who’s Liberal is watching MSNBC is because they want to hear that they’re right. The reason why someone who’s Conservative is watching FOX is because they want to hear that they’re right. So that’s reasoning about the world to be right.

Reasoning about the world in a way that’s trying to be accurate means we’re going to acknowledge. So let’s say we’re in a group together and we’re trying to form this agreement. We’re going to acknowledge that there is some sort of objective reality, there’s objective truth, and that we’re both trying to work together to construct the most accurate view of what that objective truth is.

Now, we could think about this if we go back to this idea of thinking in bets. When we think in bets, when we create that consequence, that downside consequence to having a belief that is not accurate, it focuses in on the accuracy piece. Because the person who wins in a bet, if we’re betting against each other, the person who has the most accurate view of the world, beliefs about the world, is going to win against the person who just wants to believe that the things that they believe are true.

So what happens is that, like if I were to announce, “Citizen Kane won Best Picture,” and you said to me, “Do you want to bet?” It forces me to focus on the uncertainty, it forces me to focus on what I don’t know, “What do you know that I don’t know? Why might be I wrong?” And those are all questions that have to do with accuracy. “Is this view accurate?” And it forces me to pull out Google.

So that’s the first thing that we’re going to agree to in the group is that if I hear you reasoning a way where I think you’re just reasoning to be right, or you’re being overly critical of views that disagree with you, or too accepting of things that you read or say or hear that do agree with you, I’m going to call you on it, and I’m going to say, “Hey, why might you be wrong? Like, why do you think maybe you might be biased?” So we’re going to have a commitment to accuracy. That’s number one.

Number two is we’re going to be really tolerant of diverse viewpoints. So when we’re going to seek out sources of information that disagree with us, we’re going to agree to discuss them. if you disagree with me, I am not going to dismiss you. I’m going to work my best to not be defensive when I hear it, and I’m going to try to figure out what it is that you might be right about that I hadn’t considered.

What are the things that will help me construct a better view of the world? And that doesn’t mean that if I have some beliefs that disagrees with you that I go from 100% sure of that belief to 0% sure of that belief because you happen to disagree with me. And maybe that I was 80% sure that my belief was accurate, and now because of things that I’ve talked to you about, I’m now 72% sure. I’ve just moderated the belief in some way, which is most of what you’re going to do.

So you try to allow dissent into the equation and you agree that dissent is going to be okay in the group that just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I don’t like you. And, in fact, that my disagreement with you is helpful to you because it’s going to help you to create an accurate view of the world. So we have accuracy and dissent. And then here’s the third piece that is really important. We’re going to hold each other accountable to visiting in that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Annie Duke
So you know that if I hear you say something that’s biased, or if I hear you say, “Wow, I had this guest on and they were terrible. I was so wrong to invite them,” then I’m going to call you on it, and I’m going to say, “Well, are you sure that you should be thinking about that as wrong?” And that’s going to be okay and I’m going to hold you accountable to that kind of thought.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is powerful. I love it. And like when you put it in those terms, in terms of we’re going to establish this agreement upfront, we’re going to kind of – it’s like a pact or an alliance that we’ve designed, this is how we work, how we roll here. It seems like it almost turns the whole thing into a fun game as opposed to – it just kind of removes the whole lot of like the tension and the politicking and the jockeying for approval. It’s like that we’re all just playing a game called, “Let’s get super accurate and sort of have fun with it,” you know.

Annie Duke
So I love that you framed it that way. You’re a man after my own heart with that because I think that it gets down to kind of what the secret sauce is here, and I think that you’ve really pinpointed it in a really great way.

So why is it that we want to affirm the things that we already believe? Why is it that we reason that way in the first place? Well, the things that we believe, these beliefs that we have are really the fabric of our identity. And as we sort of look over the history of our lives, and this is a lot of the way that Daniel Kahneman really thinks about this. Another book recommendation that I would give is Thinking Fast and Slow. I think it’s a great overview of this kind of where biases and heuristics get in our way.

But he really talks about it through this lens of we want to have a positive self-narrative. We want to think that we’re smart and we’re competent and we’re good actors and we’re good people. And a lot of that means that we want to feel that the things that are part of our identity are right, that we weren’t wrong about stuff. That doesn’t feel good, it feels like a downgrade in our self-narrative.

So a lot of what’s driving this information processing and the way we process information is because we want to feel good about ourselves. We just kind of want to feed our ego. And the way that we’re sort of feeding our ego and feeling good about ourselves, getting that positive update to our self-image is like, “Oh, yeah, that thing I believe was totally right.” And that makes us feel really good.

So what the group does, because it forms this, it creates a different goal to the game. Like now the goal is, “I want to be the best mistake admitter, because if I go to you and I say, ‘Oh, I really think I messed this decision up. Let’s talk about it,’” that’s when you, because we have this agreement, your face is going to light up and you’re going to give me all sorts of social approval for doing that because you’re going to recognize that I am executing on our charter in the best possible way.

In a way that’s so much better than me coming up to you and saying, “I made this brilliant decision. Let me tell you all about it.” And you’re going to be like, “Oh, that’s not really part of the charter.” Right? But if I go to you and I say, “Man, I really think I made a mistake,” you’re going to be like, “Yes, let’s totally talk about that,” and that’s now going to be what makes me feel good. So it shifts what the rules of the game is. It’s like how are you keeping score? How do you get a point?

The way we come into the world is I get points for just like, “Oh, that thing I believed is really true and I’m so smart.” Once we form this group and we work together, now I get points for mistake admitting, and credit giving, and belief calibration, and changing my mind. That’s now what I get points for, and that’s what I feel good about, that’s now what contributes to my narrative.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is powerful. This is transformative stuff. Thank you. I’ve actually a couple of things I want to touch before we have to conclude or hear about your favorite things. And so one of them is intuition.

Annie Duke
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We talked a lot about being rationale and collecting data and refining and being predictively accurate. Well, you know, you are a World Series, a Poker Champion. I imagine you’ve relied on your gut a time or two in gaining this accomplishment. How shall we be thinking about intuition and to the extent we can trust it and play that game?

Annie Duke
Sure. So the way that I think about intuition is that intuition is an incredibly useful tool but it should never be a reason for doing something. So let me explain what I mean. A lot of the decisions that we make actually have to rely on intuition because you don’t have time to map out some kind of probably realistic decision tree.

Here’s an example of a time it’d be really good to use intuition. You’re driving along the road and a deer jumps in front of your car. I hope you’re not taking a whole lot of time to think about it, and you’re just using your gut to figure out what you’re supposed to do there. But, certainly, at the poker table you have to make a lot of quick decisions.

You’re in a sales meeting and you sense that it’s going south and so you make a judgment call right in that moment that may be off script in order to get it back on track, right? And that’s really, really important. Like we need our intuition for a lot of decisions because we just don’t have time in order to actually go through a deliberative process for a lot of the kinds of things that we have to decide, so let’s be very thankful for intuition.

However, what’s really, really important, I think, is to make sure that intuition gets held accountable to a deliberative process in the same way that I want to be held accountable to you. So that means that when you ask me later, “What was it? Why did you change strategy in the sales meeting?” You should not accept from me as an explanation, “My gut told me so.” That’s not enough of an explanation, right? That’s just a cop-out.

I should be able to tell you what was it that I saw or felt that made me think that I needed to change course, because if I can’t properly explain that decision to another person such that they could understand it and execute it itself, themselves rather, then I should be questioning the intuitive response itself.

So I need to be able to explain to you after the fact, “Well, now that I think about it, you know, this is what I saw and this was what his body language was,” or, “This is what she seemed to be doing where it felt to me like she was about to let the deal break,” or whatever it might be, like I should be able to explain that to you in retrospect. And if I can’t, if the only thing that I can tell you is my gut told me so, then I should go in and re-examine my intuition.

Because let’s think about what intuition is in the first place. Intuition is like the whole of your life experience informing some sort of a gut reaction that isn’t being driven by a conscious process but it’s certainly being informed by all your past experiences. So what I want to do then is make that accountable to a deliberative process so I know, so I can create a new experience to then further inform and refine my intuitive or gut response.

One of the best ways to get intuition to line up is actually to teach, and that’s sort of what I’m asking somebody to do there. If I’m explaining, if you’re demanding from me that I explain why I did what I did, you’re asking me to teach you why I did it. And I could tell you from poker that I started teaching poker in seminars sometime around like, I want to say, 2004 or so.

And when I started teaching, my game really changed. All these things that I’ve been doing intuitively that, you know, I’ve been working okay for me, but I hadn’t really thought about it in any kind of explicit way. As I went to try to teach them in a seminar, there was a certain set of those things which I realized, “Oh, I can’t actually really justify that. I can’t really explain that very well to these people so that they could go do it themselves.”

And then I went in and re-thought what my gut feeling was about what I was supposed to do in those situations, then I realized there was actually a much better answer, and my game ended up changing for the better through that teaching process and it was because I was refining my intuitive or gut responses.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well said. Well said. And I’m intrigued, this is like a smidge off topic, but like when it comes to body language or tells or, I guess, that’s a whole another episode.

Annie Duke
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, is there anything that you think that we humans pick up on a lot from other people and that’s totally valid and we should just, you know, articulate it explicitly and say, “Yeah, that’s real and that counts”?

Annie Duke
Well, you know, so there are a lot of things. I would highly recommend people go and look up a guy named Joe Navarro on Amazon.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, What Every Body is Saying.

Annie Duke
Exactly. You will find a lot of stuff about body language in there that is going to be articulated much better than I ever could. He is brilliant and it’s an amazing book if people should just go pick it up. But, you know, there’s lots of things that have to do with – I mean, we’re pretty good at spotting deception in general.

Sometimes we talk ourselves out of it because we want to believe and we want to trust but I think that the signals are pretty strong for those kinds of things. You know, spotting discomfort, spotting openness. When somebody is really open in a conversation I think that it’s very easy to spot. In fact, it’s really interesting. The next time you’re in a restaurant and you see people who are clearly like on a date, you should be able to tell pretty quickly whether the date is going well or not by whether they’re leaning into each other or not. So that would be a really strong sign of comfort for example.

So I think that we’re pretty good in understanding these things, and you can understand from an evolutionary standpoint why that might be. You know, we need to know whether someone is an enemy or whether someone is about to attack us, or whether somebody is a friend. And so I think that these signals can be very strong and we can train ourselves to really pick up on them which is incredibly helpful obviously. So go read Joe Navarro. He’s much better at that stuff than I am.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And I also want to get your take, you know, we talked a lot about uncertainty and sort of probabilities and refining the model as you kind of learn more and integrate that. So I think that, at the same time, you know, there is an irrational force called fear. We’re just like fundamentally uncomfortable with uncertainty even though it’s all around us, it’s there. We don’t like it and we sort of the devil you know versus the devil you don’t, a lot of us will default to the devil you know. So any pro tips on kind of pushing past fear or getting comfortable with uncertainty?

Annie Duke
Yeah, what I would say is that I think that the more that you actually write down the decision and the process and get other people involved with it, so work through these decisions that you’re afraid of because of the uncertainty on the other end. Really map it out, you know, “There is decision A that I can do, there’s decision B, there’s decision C. I’ve got to choose among these three. Let me really think about decision A and what the scenarios are that I think might result from decision A.”

Really think about it not just by how might it work out but really dig into that how might it go wrong piece. Get those scenarios setup, take a stab at what the probability of each of the outcomes is, and just take a stab at it. You’re not going to be perfect but taking a stab is better than pretending like it’s 0% or 100%. I mean, it might just be a range, “Well, I think this will happen 30% to 50% of the time. Well, that’s okay because that’s better than 0% to 100% at a time.”

And it starts to get you to be comfortable with that uncertainty. So do that for each of the decisions with other people. Write all of that down. Look across that. Decide which decision you think is best. And realize that no decision is still a decision so you better map that one out, right? So you better map out sticking with the status quo, “And what do I think the outcomes are from sticking with the status quo?” And treat it as if it’s a new decision. That’s a big mindset shift.

Because I think that one thing that causes people to stick with the status quo is they aren’t treating it like a new decision. So if they’re not thinking about it as a decision, then if it doesn’t work out it’s like, “Well, I didn’t decide for it not to work out. That wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do that.” But treat it like it’s a new decision.

Now, memorialize all of that, figure out what you’re going to do, and take that and put it on a whiteboard, and just leave it there with all of the probabilities that go along with it because now whatever way that decision turns out, it’s up on the board. You’ve already thought about that in advance. And I think that’s the best way to start getting comfortable with it and it’s really just ripped from the pages of the poker world.

When I make a bet, I understand that there is some chance that you call, there’s some chance that you raise, or some chance that you fold. And, hopefully, I’m making decisions that are going to get me the best outcomes in the long run but I know I’m going to lose a lot of the hands. I have that kind of wrapped into the decision process upfront because I’m considering those scenarios in the first place.

And I think that’s what allows you to get it. In a weird sense, being afraid of uncertainty comes from not facing it down. But if you just go ahead and face it down you won’t be so afraid of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Cool. Well, Annie, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things here?

Annie Duke
No, I think we’ve covered a lot. I mean, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. I think we’ve gotten to a lot of great places.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Thank you. Well, I’m going to be chewing on this in the future, I’m sure. So, for now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Annie Duke
Yes, so I find that my favorite quotes tend to change like weekly, and it kind of depends on what I’m sort of thinking about at the time. I got this quote, I’ve actually been thinking about this quote this week which is from Heinz von Foerster, which is, you know, an obscure person, the quote is, “Objectivity is the delusion that observations could be made without an observer.”

And I’m really loving that quote because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how people use data to make their case rather than to find the truth as if data is somehow some objective thing that exists in the world independent of human beings, you know, collecting it, analyzing it, interpreting it. So this is something that’s been on my mind a lot.

It’s actually in my newsletter this week because I’ve been thinking about it, and so I found this quote, and so this quote is my favorite quote right now and it will be different than my favorite quote likely in a week or two. But that’s what it is right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Annie Duke
So it depends on what category. You know I have this trouble when people ask me for my favorite movie as well because there’s a lot of them. So I have favorite books that are like Animal Farm and Catch-22 and Lolita, books that are kind of in that fiction category that are these really, you know, Slaugtherhouse Five is another one, that are books that I read when I was young that had humongous impact on me. And I still consider those among my favorite books.

And then there are books that I sort of put in the category of things that I think about in my intellectual sort of the work that I do and in the decision-making world, and those kinds of books are things like Thinking Fast and Slow or Predictably Irrational or Superforecasting or The Power of Habit. And you can go lots of places if you just start with those four. They’ll lead you into a web of thinking about things in this space.

So it’s always hard for me to choose because I really think about things in different categories and what part of my soul they’re informing or feeding, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’ll take them all and link them all. Thank you.

Annie Duke
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours?

Annie Duke
So I would say that one of my favorite personal practices is that I really do, as a practice, try to shut everything down by dinnertime in terms of my work life. I am really, really committed to time with my family and time with my partner, and it’s important that I get to spend as much time with him as possible and as much time with my kids as possible.

And I think it’s really easy to lose that balance if you don’t set really strict guidelines around it. So once it’s time for me to start making dinner, it’s family dinner, and no work after that. As much as I possibly can. Now, it bleeds in a little bit but I would say that just setting that in motion makes it happen so much less because I have to kind of break a contract with myself so it needs to be really, really pressing and really important for me to allow that to happen. And I think that the interesting thing is because I do that I think I actually get more done rather than less.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you. And, tell me, when you’re sort of teaching some of your area of knowledge here, is there a piece that really seems to kind of resonate and get folks nodding their heads and agreeing and quoting yourself back to you?

Annie Duke
I’m going to paraphrase myself here because I don’t have the exact quote in front of me but it’s something that I said in a piece for Nautilus that I have said elsewhere, and this is the thing that I’ve seen quoted back the most, which is, “We should spend much less lot time blaming ourselves from bad outcomes but also much less time patting ourselves on the back so hard for the good ones.”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. And, Annie, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Annie Duke
So a couple of places. One is I’m very active on Twitter so you can see me at @annieduke on Twitter. I post lots of content there. I have a website annieduke.com where if people want to hire me or just get in touch with me there’s a Contact form there, and I see all of that and I’m happy to respond to any hiring request or just a question, if you have a question go there.

You can also find archives of my newsletter on there. And if you like it, you can subscribe to my newsletter on my website. My newsletter comes into your inbox every Friday and it’s really kind of discussing these issues as they apply to things that are actually happening in current events either in the political world or the business world or in science.

So it’s a way to kind of get an idea of how to apply these kinds of concepts and ideas and practices in the real world. Plus, I always put a fun visual illusion in there too because I’m a big fan. So those are the best ways to get in contact with me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Annie Duke
Yes, I do. My call to action is that people go and look at whatever their social media feed is that their favorite, either their news feed, their Google news feed, their Twitter feed, whatever it might be, wherever you’re getting your news, and go look and see if it’s balanced. Try to figure out, “Am I only on one side of the aisle here mainly?”

And really, really try to make sure it’s 50-50 and read from both sides of the aisle not with the intention of reading from that side of the aisle that you are not on to see why they’re so wrong. But try to make it so that you are really focused on trying to change your mind about one thing every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, perfect. Well, Annie, thank you so much for this. This is powerful stuff and I’m looking forward to, hopefully, having more and more great outcomes from great decisions but not, you know, directly ascribing one is the result of the other, and falling for some of those errors. So this was a ton of fun and I wish you lots of luck in all you’re up to.

Annie Duke
All right. Well, thank you very much for having me on. I really enjoyed it.

267: Managing Self-Doubt to Tackle Bigger Challenges with Tara Mohr

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Tara Mohr offers deep insight into how our fears and inner critic operate–and how to optimally respond.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key drivers behind fear and self-doubt
  2. A handy Hebrew distinction for thinking about fear
  3. How to consult your inner critic–and inner mentor–wisely

About Tara

Tara Mohr is an expert on leadership and well-being. She helps people play bigger in sharing their voices and bringing forward their ideas in work and in life. Tara is the author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, named a best book of the year by Apple’s iBooks and now in paperback. In the book, she shares her pioneering model for making the journey from playing small–being held back by fear and self-doubt–to playing big, taking bold action to pursue what you see as your callings.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Tara Mohr Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tara, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Tara Mohr

Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, I learned something fun what about you, which is that as a child your dreams were analyzed each morning with your parents along with breakfast. What’s the story here?

Tara Mohr

Yeah, I think I was very fortunate to grow up with a mom who was very interested in psychology and self-improvement, and believed she could start conversations about those things with me as a young child. And so, at a very young age she would say, “Did you have a dream last night?”, and then she would ask me about it and she would explain to me that the different characters in the dream could be different parts of myself, or they were symbols. And she would get out a yellow pad and we would diagram it, and she talked to me about architypes. And that’s how I grew up; that was just one example of how she brought the kind of conversation you have on this podcast. I was really lucky to grow up with that as an everyday matter in my house.

Pete Mockaitis

That is so cool. Tara, last night I dreamt that I got shot by a gun twice in different places. One was in just a value priced hotel, and the other was in my childhood home, recovering from the first gun shot.

Tara Mohr

Okay, that’s very interesting. We could really dive into that. And how did you feel in the dream after that?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I didn’t like it. Actually I woke up at 4:30 am against my will, and I was a little riled up. It took a while to calm down and fall back asleep.

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Have you ever heard the Buddhist phase “the second arrow”? Have you heard that?

Pete Mockaitis

Ooh, no. Tell me about it.

Tara Mohr

So it sounds very much related to what happened in your dream. So there’s this idea of, in life there are things that wound us, or there are feelings we have that are hurt, and that’s the first arrow. But then we often impose the second arrow of our reaction or the story that we make up about what happened, or the shame or guilt we have, or the self-judgments we have for having the feelings we have. So, that whole idea of being shot twice is interesting, and of course I would ask did something that hurt or wounded you, and then you went back in your literal childhood home or kind of in your family self? Was there something in the recovery process that wounded you further? That would be the first place I would look.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, nothing is leaping to mind, but I’ll definitely chew on that and see what happens as I explore, because we could spend a full conversation on that alone.

Tara Mohr

We could. And that’s actually dream interpretation, although part of my childhood is really not the center of my work now.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, tell us about your most recent book – Playing Big. What’s the main idea here and why is it important?

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Well, I found when I went into the working world, I had come out of graduate school, I had had the benefit of a good education, I was an academically-oriented and achievement-oriented person, and I was very surprised to find that I didn’t feel confident in those first years in the working world, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my ideas or my voice, and I also wasn’t really going for what I really wanted with my career. I was kind of in a job that was fine but not great, but didn’t really relate to the creative dreams or the entrepreneurial dreams that I had for myself.
And I was really curious about why I was getting so stuck around that. And then I knew I wanted to do work in the personal growth world, partly informed by how I grew up, and I got trained as a coach and I started coaching people just in the early mornings before I would go to work, or sometimes in the evenings, on the weekends, around my regular job. And I saw again and again actually at all stages of career my clients grappling with the same thing – self-doubt, not trusting their ideas and their voice, not really going for what they really wanted to do and believing there was some reason they couldn’t.
And I got really interested in this question of why do we play small and how can we play bigger? And my definition of playing big is it’s being more loyal to your dreams than your fears. So it’s whatever that means to you. It’s not necessarily anything that would look “big” in the eyes of the world, but you know it’s the real challenge, the real work for you to live that life or do that work. It’s an individual matter of discernment. And so I started to make that the focus of my coaching practice – how can people play bigger in that way, what are the tools and ideas that help us?
And I found there really were a set of things that made a transformational impact. And so that became kind of an arc that I would take my clients through, and then I started teaching large groups that all around the world, and then it became the topic of the book. And now for 10 years of really being immersed in working with people around defining what “playing big” means for them, and then most importantly doing the day-to-day practices and work to bring that vision into reality.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Well, I like that simple distinction then – more so about your dreams than your fears. And it really kind of puts into focus in a hurry, in terms of what’s my thinking right now, the patterns, who’s sort of got the upper hand. And so, I’d love to get your view then, when it comes to these fears or lack of confidence and self-doubt, what are some of the key drivers behind it? Why is that there and what should be done about it?

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Well, I think that we all have a very strong safety instinct inside of us. And the safety instinct is a primal part of us that is a very deep part of our wiring to be on the lookout for any possible danger or threat, and make sure that we avoid it or we fight it, right? And our fight or flight instinct is there to make sure that if we see any possible risk to our survival, we go into fight or flight mode and we make sure we’re conquering in some way, or we’re avoiding.
And what we know now is that in our contemporary lives that same safety instinct gets misapplied to the emotional risks in our life. So, the safety instinct that should be very conservative and over-reactive if it’s trying to ensure the physical survival of people who are threatened by lots of predators or warring tribes or poisons, as our predecessors were – that instinct is now operating when we face everyday risks, like the risk of failure, the risk of feeling really uncomfortable, the risk of worrying.
We might feel like a beginner or feel clueless or be embarrassed or do something that really rocks the boat among our friends and family. And that safety instinct then tries to do everything it can to get us to stay in the comfort zone of the known or the familiar, and that includes making up a lot of narratives that feel believable but then aren’t true, like, “You aren’t qualified for that. Who do you think you are? You’re not enough of an expert in that. There’s too many other people doing that.” All those inner critic narratives we hear are really manifestations of the safety Instinct.
And the good news about that is it means that our inner critic is not going anywhere. And I know you have many listeners who are a little bit more in the earlier phases of their careers, and I think it’s so game-changing to understand early that confidence doesn’t actually come in an enduring way with experience.
There was just a study done through KPMG that looked at confidence levels among professional women, and they looked at how many women early in their career would say they’re confident, and then how many executive-level women, senior women, would say they feel confident in their work. And the difference between those two groups was only about 10%, in terms of how many indicated they were confident.
In other words, experience didn’t change it, because when you get into a new senior role – sure, you’re more confident about some things that you did a long time ago and you’ve been doing for a long time, but you have a new edge, and the voice of the inner critic and self-doubt comes up again because that safety instinct is perceiving more emotional risk, no matter what the situation. And so we’re really not looking to get rid of the inner critic or find some unfailing sense of confidence. The “playing big” process is in part about learning how do you hear your inner critic, let it be there, know it’s always going to be there when you’re doing important work, and just not take direction from it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. So that is powerful, to assimilate that really inside your psyche there. The inner critic, as you said, it doesn’t go away – the KPMG study is pointing to that. And in a way, that kind of unmasks everything.

Tara Mohr

It does. And there are so many lies we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves, “Well, when I get to this stage in my career, then I’m going to feel confident.” We also tell ourselves, “If I get that additional certification or degree, then these uncomfortable feelings of self-doubt or uncertainty or fear will go away.” We tell ourselves, “If my weight changes and it’s this amount, then I’m going to feel confident getting up and sharing my point of view in front of a group.”
We fill a lot of things into that blank, and what we’re really doing there is making it convenient for ourselves to put risks on hold, put playing bigger on hold, put really stepping into our gifts and using our natural talents and gifts more, which is actually a very vulnerable thing – put that on hold thinking something is going to come along that’s going to bring confidence. But it doesn’t. And what we want to do is really learn to work effectively, live effectively with the voice of self-doubt, letting it be there but not taking direction from it, not letting it make our decisions.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s so powerful. And so then the implication is that you’re going to feel some lack of confidence and some self-doubt till the day you die, right?

Tara Mohr

Hopefully, right? And I say “hopefully” because it comes up most strongly when you are on the edge of your comfort zone. So for those who might be sitting there right now thinking, “I don’t really hear my inner critic that much”, I would ask you two things. One – make sure you’re looking across all areas of your life, because sometimes people think, “I’ve kind of got it down at work”, but then they’ll realize, “Oh my gosh, in my dating life, or in my parenting, or my body image” or, “I’d love to play music again but I have that voice in my head saying…” So look across all areas of your life.
But second – notice where that lack of inner critic is just kind of a dead-end part of your life, where you are not pushing yourself to an edge, you’re not doing what really matters to you, you’re not being loyal to those dreams. The inner critic will come up when there’s vulnerability, and so if you’re doing something that is 100% in your comfort zone and routine to you and not very important to you, you might not hear it, but that’s not a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I’m with you there. And so then, I also want to get your view – now, there’s a bit of a postponement factor – the way that the inner critic can sound, in terms of, “Hey, if this changes – if I lost the weight, if I got the certification, if I had a certain preparation – then I would feel confident.” And so now, for the most part that seems like that is often a lie. It is a deception that is destructive, but at the same time there are times in which no, you really are not prepared for that opportunity or that dream that you’re thinking about, and some action, some preparation is necessary to get there. So, I’d love your view on, how could we prudently discern the difference, and what’s a wise means of thinking through that, so that you get the valid prep steps done but you don’t delay yourself till it never happens?

Tara Mohr

Yeah, yeah, and it’s so funny that you are asking that specific question, because I just got off of our course call and we were exactly talking about this piece today. So there’s a few things I’d offer around that. One is, pay attention to the evidence that you’re getting from the world. Are you getting clear repeated information from the stakeholders that matter to you, that you need more preparation? In other words, maybe you want to offer a support group for moms, and you do a trial day where you invite a few moms in your community to come together, and you put together a great little program for them or whatever.
And then you hand out feedback forms and you notice there’s really a theme on the feedback forms, that people felt like they wanted more content or more expertise. And you hear again and again that your audience is asking for a different level of preparation and knowledge for you – okay, then you have some evidence. But most people never get to that stage of even asking their intended audience for information. They make up a story in their head and it’s usually a convenience story that allows them to hide a little bit that they need to do a lot more preparatory work. So that’s one piece – is it coming to you in real information and evidence from the outside world?
A second is, what’s the energy that you have or the beliefs that you have around that preparation? If you notice that in a very sort of joyful, light, abundant kind of energy you feel like, “I’m going to go learn more so I can do even more here, and this is going to be an enriching process for me” – that can be a great thing to follow. But if you notice that you’re feeling, “I don’t know enough until…” or, “There’s no way I could contribute any value until…” – the sort of like “This will complete me.” It’s like the equivalent of the romantic “He or she will complete me” feeling. Notice that, and that’s kind of a clue that you’re probably putting a story there that is more about fear than about the external thing itself.
And then a third thing I would offer is… A real issue in our culture is that we tend to put all the emphasis on expertise, and have a kind of cultural narrative that the people who contribute value around a topic are the “experts”. And that’s a view that’s really enforced by our educational system, reinforced by our educational system that says if you want to do something in X topic – if you want to do something around history – go get your degree in history. If you want to do something in serving kids, go get X degree. We’re looking for, what information do I need to absorb to be able to contribute value on that topic?
And that is certainly important, and you’re talking to someone who really values education and has a graduate degree and I believe it’s very important that we have those places to get expertise and we have experts in our culture. But on any given subject there are people contributing value as the expert. Let’s take for example breast cancer. So we have our experts who have PhDs in breast cancer treatment and prevention and rehabilitation and so on. And they’re playing a certain role.
But then we have other people – we have people who are survivors, who have different insights and a different sensibility and can contribute something different, in terms of sharing a message, inspiring people, improving upon services, innovating. The experts can never bring what they can bring.
And we have other people who I would call “cross-trainers”, who come from a completely different type of expertise – maybe they come from the design world or the business world or the activism world, and they can take their lens and their expertise and look at a new topic. And because they don’t have formal training in it and they’re bringing a fresh lens, they add value in a different way. And I think we really deemphasize those things.
So that’s another question when you’re discerning, as you’re asking, Pete – do I get more training? Part of it is, who do I want to be? Is my calling to be the expert on this, or is my calling to contribute value in a different way? And really we can’t discount how significant the value is that people contribute, who are coming from that cross-trainer or survivor perspective, not from the formal expert perspective.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, so much good stuff. Okay, so we’ve amassed a big lie, we’ve got a nice distinction here associated with, is preparation necessary, and some indicators how the inner critic can be a useful indicator, in terms of maybe pushing harder toward the edge. So, that’s a lot of great stuff. So now I’d like to zoom in sort of in the heat of battle. You’re trying to do some bigger things, and tell us, what are the particular fears that arise and your pro tips for responding to them?

Tara Mohr

Well, I’ll share a little bit about how I look at fear. And in the book I call this “a very old new way of looking at fear”, because I’m drawing here on two terms that are actually Old Testament, ancient Hebrew terms. These are two words that are used in the Old Testament to describe types of fear. And when I came across these I kind of fell off my chair, because I felt like they were so illustrative of what I was seeing with my coaching clients, but I had never heard about them before. So let me walk you through the two.
So the first word is “pahad”. And pahad is defined as the fear of projected things or imagined things. So this is when we imagine the worst case scenario of what could happen. It’s when we project the movie of how things might play out. And most of the fear that you and I and our friends and colleagues experience on a day-to-day basis is this, right? We are imagining a potential outcome and feeling afraid. It’s an anticipatory feeling; it is not usually about what’s happening right now, in this moment, but about what we fear could happen.
We know – not from the Old Testament but from all the biological and neuroscience research that has come since – that this kind of fear is generally over-reactive and misleading. We know for example that when we learn to fear a particular thing through conditioning – let’s say we get bitten badly by a dog and then the way the human response to that works is we learn to fear being bitten by a dog. We also know that we have a very generalizing response to that experience, so we won’t just become afraid of that dog; we might become afraid of dogs in general.
And in the foundational experiment that was done on this in the 1920s, they could actually see how by priming a baby to be afraid of a small white mouse… The baby initially was not afraid of the white mouse, but then they paired it with a very loud startling noise, and so then the baby started to associate the two and would see the mouse and would have a fear response. But then the baby also became afraid of a white rabbit and a white cotton ball and a man with a white beard.
This is what we’re also doing in our adult lives, right? Whether that’s you had one negative relationship experience and now you’re generalizing that a certain type of relationship or a certain type of person – you’re going to fear that. Or maybe you did something in one professional environment that was met with really painful feedback, and then you come to fear a whole set of associated things. So that associative quality of our fear response means that fear misleads us, because of course that white rabbit and the white beard and the cotton ball are harmless, as are many of the things we come to fear.
Another way fear misleads us is that we learn what to fear not just from our own experiences but also by watching what the people around us fear. And that of course happens in early childhood for a lot of us, and happens in problematic ways because many times the fears that those around us have are based on their own false stories. So all to say when we have pahad kind of fear, we do not want to believe it or let it be in charge; we need to know, “Okay, I’m in pahad, I’m in that anticipatory fear. It is probably not accurately guiding me and I want to shift myself out of it.” And you can do all kinds of practices, whether it’s calming your nervous system through meditation or shifting into another energy. I like whenever I’m afraid to just focus on, “What can I be curious about in this situation? What can I get really interested in?” Because if you’re in curiosity, you can’t simultaneously be in fear. So we always want to be looking at shifting out of pahad.
Okay, the second kind of fear that is mentioned in the Old Testament is something we really don’t talk about in our culture, and the word for that is yirah, is the ancient Hebrew word. And that has three definitions. Yirah is what we feel when we are inhabiting a larger space than we’re used to. It’s what we feel when we suddenly have more energy, when we come into possession of more energy than we normally have. So think about in your life, like what lights you up, what fills you with energy, your passions, using your gifts, telling your truth – whatever gives you that infusion of energy. That kind of exhilarated, scared feeling that can come with that – that’s yirah. And the third definition is this is what we feel in the presence of the sacred. So in fact when Moses is at the burning bush, yirah is the word used to describe how he feels when he’s at the burning bush.
So this was very significant for me to see as a coach and as a human being, because I understood that when I was working with people and they really told the truth about what they wanted, or they made a momentous decision that really resonated with the core of them, this was the feeling they felt. And it did include fear; it also had awe and exhilaration in it. And yirah is really different that pahad. We don’t need to shift out of yirah; we kind of need to learn to tolerate it and breathe into it and not find it such an electric infusion of energy that we block it or numb out or avoid the things that bring it. So that is the framework we use in the “playing big” model for working with fear.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it’s so interesting when you say yirah, if I’m pronouncing it correctly. When you say “inhabiting a larger space”, this is kind of both literally and figuratively?

Tara Mohr

Exactly, exactly. So certainly when people step onto a bigger stage, speak to a bigger audience, maybe stand at the front of a bigger conference room, or whatever that might be. There’s literal spaces and then there’s the figurative, like I am reaching more people or I am being willing to take up more room. You can look at it that way as well.

Pete Mockaitis

That is so cool, because I really do find if I have a speaking engagement and I arrive there early, I actually love it. When I’m in the room and it’s completely empty but there are hundreds of seats there, there is a sensation – and now I’ve got a word for it, thank you – and I love it. It’s just so full of possibility. And it’s interesting you say “presence of the sacred” because it does often prompts me to pray – not because I’m terrified, but it’s just like there’s a bigness to it, and that’s just sort of a natural response for me. And that’s so cool and I think really eye-opening, because maybe my personality is I’m just like, “Oh yeah, I love that. Bring it on! I want some more of that in my life!” But you’re saying that for many of us, “Oh no, that’s just too big and I can’t even sort of abide there for very long without getting into maybe like a freak out type of sensation.”

Tara Mohr

Yeah, that’s what I find, that it’s both wonderful and it often feels wonderful when we’re in it, but there is a quality to it of, it’s a heightened state, it does take us out of our comfort zone a bit, it does have that component of fear or almost breathlessness in it. Sometimes it asks us to change, right? Like you could imagine that if you were in a different career and you were only doing speaking once a year or every 18 months and then you felt that feeling when you were speaking, when you were doing public speaking –that’s telling you something about your life and your career, which you may or may not want to hear at that point, because it might ask you to make some changes that require courage or trade-offs and so on. And so we do sometimes try and block the yirah or turn away from it.
I think also yirah, for a lot of people there’s kind of transcendence of the self that comes with it, and you may find when you’re doing that public speaking, you get into the zone, you get into flow state – you kind of lose the sense of Pete and you’re one with the words or you’re one with the audience. And then at the end it’s like, “Oh, where did I go? I went fully into that.” And that happens for a lot of people. The things that bring them yirah – they lose their normal sense of self while they’re doing them, and that’s that flow state, that kind of immersion, what Martin Seligman calls our “gratifications”. And that can be a little bit threatening to our ego sometimes, because our ego likes to be, “I’m Tara”, “I’m Pete”, “I’m in my mundane sense of self.” It doesn’t really like that transcendence of self, and so that could be another reason we resist it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Excellent, thank you. So then you say that’s kind of the different prescription then, in terms of with the projected things and fear. It’s a matter of, “Hey, slow it down, calm it down.” And with yirah the big stuff is being able to hold on for a bit.

Tara Mohr

Breathe into it, lean into it, notice what brings you it, pursue those things. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So now thinking more a bit about self-doubt and it popping up – you say that confidence is not the prescription or the answer to self-doubt appearing. Tell us a little bit more about that, and what is?

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Well, just as we were talking about before – if confidence isn’t coming and if the inner critic is always going to be speaking up when we are on the edge of our comfort zone, we certainly don’t want to wait on confidence to do our most important work. And instead of looking for aiming for confidence, I believe we need a new relationship with our self-doubt. And so that has a couple of components. The first is being aware when you are hearing your inner critic.
For so many of us the inner critic is the background noise that we live with, it’s the music that has been playing in our head for a long time, we don’t even hear it anymore, it’s the water that we’re swimming in. It’s like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve never been good at that kind of thing”, “Oh, those people over there are the ones who have it going on and I’m the outsider, “Oh, my body this and that” – whatever your inner critic lines are, many of them become just so habitual you don’t hear them anymore, or you hear them as those are true facts.
So step one here is starting to be able to notice and name your inner critic, so that in those moments you can say, “I’m hearing my inner critic right now.” Now, a lot of times that’s enough; it’s just like a mindfulness practice. That’s enough to let you go, “Oh, if I’m hearing my inner critic, then that’s certainly not the part of me I’m going to listen to.” But sometimes we do need a secondary tool, and there’s a whole range of things that can be effective – sometimes for people creating a character that personifies the inner critic so they can actually see, “Okay, my inner critic sounds like the perfect housewife”, or the stern old mean professor, and really getting a visual, so that when you are hearing your inner critic line you see it as coming from that character. And all of a sudden then there’s humor and you can have perspective on it.

Pete Mockaitis

What are some names that you’ve heard given to inner critics?

Tara Mohr

Oh gosh, all kinds of things. I feel like there was a year there where everywhere I would go and speak, the inner critic was always a Downton Abbey character. I’m trying to think of the name. The evil folks downstairs in Downton Abbey, and Harry Potter characters, and sometimes it’s a random name that comes to people and then I always have to hope there’s no one else in the class with that name. Sometimes they won’t write it down because it’s their colleague from down the hall and they don’t want that their worksheet from the program is seen by anyone later. So yeah, creating a character can be useful.
I really like using another tool, and I’ll share an example of how I used it for myself. When the Playing Big book was coming out, about six weeks before the publication date, I got an email from my editor at Penguin and she said, “Oh Tara, great news – we’ve piqued the interest of the editors of the Sunday Review section of the New York Times. They’d like you to write an essay based on Chapter 6 for their consideration for the Sunday Review.
So I see that and my mouth kind of fell open because I didn’t even know they were pitching them, or I had no idea that was even on the table. And my very first thoughts were, “Oh no, this is going to be a huge waste of time. I have an actual book launch to prepare for and a lot to do, and now I’m going to have to spend all this time writing this piece, which we know is never going to be published, because people who write for the Sunday Review section sound very grown-up and articulate in their writing, and Tara, you know you’ve never sounded that way.”
That was what the voice in my head said. And that voice and those thoughts pretty much stayed cycling that way for a few days. And then there were some other ones that got added in, like, “You can’t write about this for a co-ed audience because the book had been directed at women”, and, “There’s no way you can translate that chapter’s topics into an op-ed; it won’t make sense.” I had piling on every problem and excuse.
And on about the fourth day of this, somewhere there was a little graced thought that flew into my head that said, “You know, Tara, maybe that’s your inner critic talking.” Now, this is like a primary subject of the book that I had just written, but it took me four days because in our own minds the inner critic always sounds like truth. But on the fourth day… And that’s what I think we can get with practice – it might not be immediate but it didn’t take me six months at least. On the fourth day the voice said, “Maybe that’s the inner critic.” And of course internally my response was like, “No, no, no, it can’t be the inner critic. There’s no way you can pull off this piece. Your writing and your voice is just not mature enough.” But another voice said, “You know, this kind of sounds like an inner critic.”
And then I used this tool, which I love, which is to say, “Well, what does my safety instinct not like about this situation?” Because I know that my inner critic is always going to be a strategy of my safety Instinct. So, when I asked myself that question: “What does my safety instinct not like about this situation?”, the whole picture looked so different to me. I could suddenly see, “Wow, this is basically the worst nightmare of an emotional safety instinct”, because in one scenario here I’m going to write a piece that my editor thinks is not good and I’m worried she’s going to write back and be like, “It’s not good enough; I can’t pass it on”, and that’s going to be painful. Another scenario is the New York Times editors say that, and that will be painful because that will make me feel like I don’t measure up.
And even in the best case scenario, what’s my big reward? It’s that 3 million people are going to judge what I write and have opinions about it. And that’s scary for a part of us, for sure. And it can be especially, I would say, even more so often for women, because we are really socialized to not rock the boat and not do things that bring criticism. And I knew if I write an op-ed about some of these issues in the New York Times, they’re some controversial topics, there’s going to be a mixed reaction.
So then I could see, “Okay, I get it. I get what my safety instinct doesn’t like here.” And I’m going to lovingly parent that part of myself and say, “I get it. This feels really big and scary to you. We’re going to be okay. I’ve got this, and you’re allowed to be here with all these fears, but there’s another part of me that wants to be in charge here – the part that loves writing, that wants to get these ideas out, that likes taking a seat at the table in this way.” And that allowed me to proceed.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful, thank you. That’s a great illustration, and talking about the second arrow – coming full circle here. You’re beating yourself up maybe, associated with, “I’m supposed to be the expert on this and I can’t even…” There may be a risk of some self-judgment even when you’re trying to apply the tools and are aware of this wisdom here.

Tara Mohr

Yeah, and luckily I do. That part I feel very clear on, and I would offer that to people too, that I never have felt I need to be an expert on these things and be flawlessly playing big in my own life. I feel the opposite – I feel the only way I can stay interested in these topics and have something relevant to say about them is if I’m really grappling with them and I am compelled around these topics, because I’m a fellow traveler. And so I proudly use all these tools myself and always try and work my own playing big edges myself.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, thank you. Well, Tara, tell me – is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some your favorite things?

Tara Mohr

I do want to mention inner mentor for a minute, because I think that’s such an important topic, and it’s really kind of the antidote to the inner critic; it’s the other voice in us that we talk about a lot in Playing Big. And the idea with the inner mentor is that rather than always seeking external mentors and looking for that person out there that has the answers for you, you come into contact with a sense of your own older, wiser self. And so in the book we do a guided visualization, so you can meet yourself 20 years in the future.
And what people find is they don’t just meet their older self, they sort of meet their elder, wise self, their authentic self. And then you can really consult and dialogue with that part of you as a mentor. And it is absolutely the best mentor you will ever have – all its answers are customized for you, it is always available to you. And so, that’s just been such a powerful tool and I want to make sure people know about it, because I’ve watched it be really, really pivotal for so many people now.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s so interesting, and I’m right now imagining an older, wiser Pete with a cane, sitting on a log on an autumn day.

Tara Mohr

Well, we can do that right now. Yeah, so one thing that you are finding a
dilemma right now – just ask him for his perspective on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. Well, so the silence there… Yeah, I was just thinking about, I just have a new baby. Yay! My first son.

Tara Mohr

Congratulations!

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And so, I’m just thinking about, what’s prudent, in terms of kind of growing business without spending crazy hours, in kind of a way that would be troublesome for a family living. And so, it was only a few seconds, but what I’m picking up is the notion that there’s no need to sprint, rush, rush, do more, is kind of a wisdom nugget I’m starting to unpack there.

Tara Mohr

Yeah, and it sounds like… So did he kind of give you a vibe or a perspective around this question that was a little different than what you were holding in your mind before?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, kind of, yes. Because my instinct is to, “Alright, strategize, let’s figure out what is our optimal point of leverage”, as opposed to having a bit more of a calm, spacious, patient view of the matter.

Tara Mohr

Yeah. So Pete, it sounds like you tapped in really quickly, which is wonderful. Even without doing a longer visualization you could just call up a picture of him and then connect with a voice that was different than that of your everyday thinking, and that’s exactly it. And usually that inner mentor voice is more spacious, it’s more calm, it’s more loving, and it does give us something really different. I can’t tell you how many times people will come with like, “I don’t know, is it A or B? Is it A or B? And I’m stuck between A or B.”
And they check in with their inner mentor for a second and there is a C option that comes that they didn’t perceive before, that feels really right and gives them kind of a new path forward. So, it’s an amazing tool and it sounds like you have it right there at your fingertips. For people who feel like they need a little more help or if you just want to have a deeper experience with that, there’s an audio that you can use and a written form also in the book. But it’s a great tool to tap into.

Pete Mockaitis

That is wonderful, and I’m glad you highlighted it before we moved on to the next phase. And it’s so funny, I’m tempted – you tell me, is this a good idea or a bad idea – when it comes to the visualization, one of my knee-jerk reactions was, “Oh, I bet there is a website where I can put a photo of myself and see what I look like when I’m old.” And it was like, “Hm, on the one hand that could be interesting and help bring about a picture, but on the other hand, maybe I won’t like the picture.”

Tara Mohr

Yeah. I would say, let your subconscious mind do it because it’s sort of going back to our dream conversation – you’re going to see where this person lives, how they live, how they carry themselves. You want your right brain and your intuition to bring all that to you, rather than some computer-generated literal thing. So yeah, I’d say let your mind’s eye dream it up.

Pete Mockaitis

Perfect, thank you. Okay, cool. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tara Mohr

Oh, sure. Well, one of my favorite quotes comes from Marianne Williamson, and it is, “Ask to be a representative of love.” So, in any situation that you’re feeling stressed about… And I have used this in professional situations, including before I was an entrepreneur – very traditional professional situations – with amazing success and results, like going into a tense meeting where there was a lot of conflict and my prayer and inner intention was, I want to be a representative of love in the room. And what that allowed me to do was get out of myself and my fear and my ego, and contribute so much more value and be such a more helpful, mature voice in the room. So that’s always for me like a mantra, a favorite quote, a favorite practice.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Tara Mohr

I have so many, but I just finished one that I think is outstanding and that your listeners will probably really enjoy. It’s called Einstein and the Rabbi. It’s by Rabbi Naomi Levy and it’s really a personal growth type book that is just very compelling and helpful.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you be awesome at your job?

Tara Mohr

One of my favorite habits is surrender, by which I mean remembering that I’m not supposed to figure it out all on my own. So when I’m feeling overwhelmed or unclear, I can very consciously say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do in this situation.” I physically open up my hands to the world, the greater space and say “Help!” And then I kind of go through my day with a sensitive listening for the insights and answers. And I find that that surrender and asking for help really changes everything.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent, thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Tara Mohr

I’m at TaraMohr.com. And the Playing Big book is available on Amazon and everywhere that books are sold.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Tara Mohr

I do. I would invite everyone to circle back to that idea we started our conversation with, and ask yourself are you being more loyal to your fears or your dreams? And what’s one thing you can do today to be more loyal to your dreams?

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Tara, thank you so much for sharing this. I wish you lots and lots of luck in your coaching and your book and all the cool things you’re up to!

Tara Mohr

Thank you! Likewise.

255: Minimizing Avoidable Failures with Russell Klusas

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Tradecraft founder Russ Klusas discusses optimal decision-making amid life goals, recognizing avoidable failures, and learning from the successes and failures of Silicon Valley.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to understand and use bounded rationality
  2. How to identify avoidable failures
  3. The good and the bad from Silicon Valley

About Russ 

Russell Klusas is the Founder of Tradecraft, a full time, in-person immersive training program for people who want to work in startups. He was also previously the CEO of Big Lobby, and the Entrepreneur-in-Residence of Founder Institute. He attended the University of Illinois.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Russ Klusas Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Russ, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Russell Klusas
Oh, Pete, glad to join you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is going to be a whole lot of fun, I think, because we’ve had a lot of great conversations that probably should’ve been recorded over the years, and this time we’re doing one. And you’re in the minority, maybe only half a dozen guests are people I’ve known for years and prior to the episode. So, I want to put you on the spot and ask you to share with the world a favorite Russ & Pete memory.

Russell Klusas
Oh, what’s weird is that my strongest associative memory of you isn’t an actual event; it’s a hand gesture.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Okay.

Russell Klusas
And it’s yours, and it’s like this very particular like half Bill Clinton pointing fast, just really excited, like jazz hands thing that you do when something is really being optimized. Like every time I say your name or think of your name I always just imagine you like pointing out as you’ve made some really cool point and your hand kind of wiggles on its way down. It gets me excited.

Let’s see. If I had to actually talk about a favorite event, though, like looking back when that’s actually like relatively significant, if I go back and think about it, is when you and I we were in college, we spent one, I think, kind of like winter break working on some silly little idea called Connect Text.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Russell Klusas
Which we had decided that if we could text message blast everyone on campus on where they should go and where would be cool, and what bar was full, and what place was offering a new deal and whatnot that that would be great. And beyond being an idea that was a little bit ahead of its time, and it’s now then executed through things like Twitter and Instagram and Groupon and all these other things alike, if I look back on the group of people that worked on it there was me, and there was you, and there was Bo, and there was this guy named Sergei, and like pretty much everyone who worked on that has now gone on to do some pretty interesting and significant things in the tech world.

Like Sergei runs a vast majority of the product at Zillow; Bo started a company called FutureAdvisor that sold for a ton of money to, I think, BlackStone; I think Luke was kind of weighing in on some of that stuff who did MyMiniLife and Farmville; and you’re doing this stuff with this podcast and the coaching, and hearing about your more and more; then I’m kind of like pulling up the rear here by keeping myself busy here in the Valley.

Oddly, there’s pretty much nobody from that group who hasn’t gone on and done something relatively significant. I think that’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. University of Illinois in action, that’s good. And as I’m thinking about the gesture, you say, my buddy Dave articulates it by saying, “Okay, I have some things up here, and I’m going to bring them over here.”

Russell Klusas
Yes. Yes. That is the thing. And, like, I can’t hear not only your name but I can’t hear any variation of the word optimal without thinking of that gesture first. I think if an associative memory is a high-valence events that tends to recall a very particular set of feelings for you then that word instantly recalls my memory and vision of you, and, I don’t know, I always found that interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m flattered. Thank you. I’m encouraged to hear that. And I just think of, when I think of you, I think of not that this is to be like a 40-minute lovefest, but I just think of how you are just sort of seem to very quickly seem to get to know lots of impressive people really fast. And so, just like the folks that you get to have meetings with and are in the room with you it’s just sorts of astounding to me at times. So, impressive sort of the gift and the skillset you have associated with networking and relationship building is pretty awesome and hopefully we’ll learn a couple of those tidbits here today.

Russell Klusas
Well, it sounds good to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, just to orient folks a little bit, could you maybe tell us the shorter two- three-minute version of your career story from where you started to what you’re up to right now?

Russell Klusas
Yeah, I would say like probably the most interesting part about my story is how early it started. I think I started my first real legit business, one that I probably should’ve filed taxes for and produced real revenue on when I was eight, that was a little snow shoveling business that I had started that ended up being kind of fun activity that I still talk about to this day with my parents and whatnot every time I see them.

But, basically, from the time that I was eight on, I have always kind of seen starting businesses as a really good excuse to go out and learn new things and to gotten to solve various problems I’ve seen in the world. So, that has saw like all these really eclectic path where, in high school, I ran a company that did PR for local small businesses, and I got to do really creative and fun things where I would be on a retainer for a local antique shop.

And in order to drive business for them I would end up throwing some party for high schoolers outside in their parking lot. And everyone would ask me, “Why are you doing that?” I’d say, “Well, because I’m going to make sure that the party runs over,” and all of these people need to be picked up by their parents. So, their parents wind up spending 20 minutes inside browsing while they’re waiting for their child to be done at this event.

So, in college, after I had sold the little PR company, I committed to the idea that I was going to have a normal college life. That lasted six days until my then girlfriend, and now wife, moved into her school, and I decided that the loft, the thing that actually raise the bed in her dorm room so that she can put her desk underneath it, just wasn’t up to my standards, and it was too expensive and not fit for the room and all this other stuff. So, then I started a furniture company that ended up blowing up on me one summer. I went away on vacation for a few minutes and came back and all of a sudden there was $100,000 in orders that I had to figure out how to solve. That was my first exposure to kind of explosive growth.

And really, since then, I’ve spent a vast majority of my career kind of floating back and forth between a kind of like a finance-heavy version of business where I invested in a lot of real estate and did some mergers and acquisitions on buying some small companies, and then kind of staying true to my roots which was more of a technology base and doing web design and marketing and software development for a variety of clients.

Until eventually I found myself out here in Silicon Valley where I now run a place called Tradecraft. And what we do at Tradecraft is we kind of help people figure out what’s next. One of the things that Silicon Valley is really good at is helping young founders and startups kind of succeed at the kind of company level. But there’s not a lot of focus on individual people and making sure that they don’t fail for avoidable reasons. Not the risk stuff, not the taking a chance but just like kind of the simple day-to-day things that make sure that they’re kind of achieving their highest and best use in the world.

So, we take people who are transitioning into technology. We take people who are trying to shift from another career or they’re trying to step up a level and kind of get a job that they, otherwise, wouldn’t qualified for and we kind of provide some mentorship and guidance and education, whatever it takes to kind of help them succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s right. And so, perfect, thank you for laying that out. That’s very helpful. So, now, I want to dig in a little bit. When it comes to working with folks on the full career perspective and helping them succeed, and cutting the avoidable failure, we’ve talked a number of times about sort of thinking tools and common mistakes that folks make when they’re putting the game plan together for their career.

And I love it, like you told me a great example of how someone said, “I want to work in Airbnb,” and then you say, “Well, why do you want to work for Airbnb?” And you sort of discovered that that’s not really the optimal path – there we go, optimal.

Russell Klusas
And the hand gesture starts.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, there it is – for them. So, can you share with me a little bit sort of how do you think about and guide folks as they’re sort of thinking through their next career move?

Russell Klusas
Yeah, when you actually kind of break it down and step back and look at the reasons that people both succeed and fail in their careers and, really, more holistically in their life in general, it can usually be traced back to this thing called bounded rationality. And not to get too geeky but a little Econ 101, like economics says that humans are these perfectly rational creatures and that we are constantly understanding what all of our options are and all our alternatives on how we can spend our time, and we have clear goals in mind, we understand our alternatives, we’ve collected all the information we can, we’re constantly selecting our own highest and best use in the market.

But, practically speaking, rationally, emotionally speaking, that’s not actually true. This guy named Herbert Simon, in the ‘50s, realized that humans are not optimizing creatures. We are boundedly rational which, to put it simply, means that when we’re making these big important life decisions we often find ourselves in situations where we don’t have enough information. We don’t actually have the key information that we need to make that decision.

If we did have that information, we don’t have what he called intelligence, but what I call insight, into why that information matters and how it will kind of play out in our lives. So, even if I gave you access to everything that you could possibly need when it comes to the actual raw data, because you haven’t developed an expertise around these subjects and around this thing that you’re about to do, you don’t understand how it all fits together, the greater system of it.

And, unfortunately, the last bit of it is that we are often in situations where we don’t have enough time to offset the first two, we don’t have enough time to go get that information or to really understand what that means. So, when you understand that bounded rationality is the reason why we tend to kind of miss stuff, then it makes it a lot easier to understand what it is that you have to provide somebody with in order to help them overcome that, right?

So, in some cases it’s just understanding what a career path looks like. And, for you, when you’re trying to break into a new industry, whether it’s tech or finance or anything else, it’s this unknown unknown, as Rumsfeld so famously told us. And it’s not even reasonable if you think about it to expect you to understand not only all of the options that you have but all the paths you can take, but what kind of opportunities and landmines you need to look out for along the way. You’ve never been there. You’ve never done that. It’s not that you are going to Google and being too lazy to do your research. It’s just you’re going to Google and you’re not even sure what to type in. You don’t know what the right questions are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Russell Klusas
Yeah, it’s like if you were to take someone who is going into college in the next few months, or he’s going to start college the next fall, like having been through college, having been there and done that, you would have all these great advice to provide somebody with. But going in that first time like you wouldn’t even know what the questions are.

You haven’t been faced with the problems yet, so a lot of times you end up making, what hurt in retrospect, pretty obvious mistakes, things that aren’t really all that unique, mistakes that people have been making for millennia in some cases, and you end up having to reinvent the wheel and kind of recreate all of these possible ways out for things that could be avoided if you just had access to the right people with the right information at the right time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Go ahead.

Russell Klusas
So, when it comes to getting people over that, a lot of it is just a matter of recognizing where people are, in fact, boundedly rational and trying to act as that mentor, as that friend who can kind of help them through those times.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, in practice, if someone is looking to make a career shift, or enter into any new sort of great unknown unknown, what would you recommend folks do in terms of gathering a bit of that context expertise sort of base-level backgrounder to reduce the odds they’re going to do something really dumb?

Russell Klusas
Well, historically speaking, when you look back all the way as far as you can go up till now, there’s only really been one form of solution that has worked consistently, and that’s something equating to mentorship or apprenticeship, right? Even if you go back to medieval days right up to now, like usually the best way that you can overcome the challenges you’re about to face in college is to have an older brother or to have a friend who’s already been there and done that and can guide you along the way and kind of help tell you, not what to do but like help you understand what decisions you have to make and what your options are.

So, what I would say is seek out mentorship, and sometimes that’s literally going and seeking somebody out and trying to find a way to be valuable to them so that they will be willing to spend a few minutes with you, hopefully share some of that wisdom. But in the cases where that’s not available, like seek out mentorship online in the form of all of the knowledge that exist there, the books, the podcasts, these types of things. Go find people who have been there and done that, and kind of look at what they did and work your way backwards.

A lot of times when people come to us at Tradecraft and they’re trying to figure out what their first job should be outside of Tradecraft, they go to Tradecraft, they get some kind of immersive learning experience, and they go get that first job, we often don’t tell them to start with figuring out what that next job is. We tell them to go try figure out what they want their job to be five years from now. We call it our TN plus two, or plus three. Not one-time period out but a few times periods out.

We say, “Go find that. Then go find a few people who have that job then look for a pattern between the people who that job that you want to have someday and what they did prior in their experience.” If they were visual designers straight out of college, go be a visual designer. If they were just hustlers at brand new companies, like go be a hustler. Look for people who’ve been there and done that, and do that well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And I think at the same time, while you’re having those conversations with them, make sure that’s what you actually want to do, like burst any bubbles that you might have in terms of poor assumptions and getting a realistic job interview.

Russell Klusas
Oh, yeah. I mean, far and away, the biggest ramification of bounded rationality is people avoiding it altogether. They avoid the big decisions. For some reason, the last 10 or 15 years it’s been like something approaching cool to like not have goals and to not spell them out because you’re supposed to just get on the rocket ship, as they say, or go where the world takes you, just pursue things. And that’s just ridiculous. When you talk to successful people one of the things they almost always have in common is they always have goals. They always have something that’s far and off out that’ll be kind of the north star of them in their day-to-day activities.

And when people think that if you pick a goal today then that means that has to remain your goal your entire career, and that’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with changing your goal as you get new information. But to not have a goal means that you can’t really evaluate whether or not you’re doing well. And for some people they find salvation in that, right? “If I don’t have a set of goals to compare myself to, to compare my performance to, then I’m definitely not doing bad because I just never ask that question.” Right?

But they almost always end up regretting it. They almost always end up looking back on it and having woken up one day, and going like, “Holy crap, I’m in my early or mid-30s and I don’t really like where I am. I’m not doing anything I care about. I’m not setup to have that senior-level position in the firm, or to have the influence or the impact that I want to have,” and it’s because they weren’t being mindful of their most valuable asset early in their career, which is time. On and on, the only thing that matters in the early stages of your career is time.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say the only thing that matters is time. Do you mean in terms of how you’re spending it? And is that a wise use of the time?

Russell Klusas
Yes. Without a doubt, if I had to tell somebody like, “The asset in your life that you need to optimize for, especially early in your career, it is time.” Right? The thing that I would tell you to go seeking out in your early days is knowledge, right? In your early 20s when you have a low standard of living, a low burn rate and few responsibilities, that is the best time to make sacrifices and to dedicate yourself to learning and becoming an expert in your craft, going for mastery, if you will.

But the thing you need to be most careful of is time because that’s where this avoidable failure stuff really starts to kick in, not just in the small failures; the day-to-day stuff. But it’s a common thing you see out here in the Valley, it’s like people who go to law school, and they go to a great law school, they go to Harvard Law School and then they graduate and become a first-year associate in a top-tier firm in Manhattan, and then six months later they end up on my doorstep, and you go, “Whoa, wait a minute. What happened?”

There’s nothing wrong with deciding you want a different path in your life, but my question to them is always like, “Is there something that fundamentally changed about the field of law while you were in law school? Is there something about being a first-year associate that is different?” And they always go, “No, that’s how it’s fairly it’s always been.” And I said, “Well, if you had known that, if you had been forced to intern or something like that at a law firm for over three months, for the summer before you went to law school, would you have gone?” And they always go, “Oh, absolutely not.”

And it’s not that going to law school is bad. You and I, both, we have a bunch of friends who are lawyers and they love it and they really enjoy it. But, like, real avoidable failure isn’t often the stuff that you notice; it’s the stuff that you don’t even think that is failure. It’s going to law school and dedicating three years of your life there only to figure out that that’s not what you want to do, that’s not the vocation, the life’s work you want to have, and having lost that time, because time is valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we talked about these avoidable failures, of these whoopsie-daisy kind of moments, like, “Oh, man, I wish I hadn’t done that.” Let’s talk about some of your pro tips to get a little bit of a preview or a test in advance. You talked about getting a peek from mentors and apprenticeship master type folks, you talked about doing an internship, and you talked about availing yourself to the books and podcasts that they give you a glance inside? What are some of your other favorite tactics for getting a feel for things in advance of doing the thing?

Russell Klusas
Well, I’ll tell you one that is one of my favorites but is almost the antithesis of the ethos here in the Valley, at least when you first start to see it, and that is I tend to focus more on avoiding failure than I do on having some world-changing success. And it’s not because I’m not an optimist, and it’s not because I’m not ambitious. I like to think that I, and the people that I work with, are both of those things.

Like anyone who tells you that they can give you the five steps to success, how to turn yourself into the next Mark Zuckerberg, anyone who’s promising you that you’re going to be the next X Factor, they’re lying because either they don’t know how complicated this stuff is, and you shouldn’t be listening to them, or they do know and they’re just trying to sell you something.

Like it is impossible to predict with any level of certainly what is going to make somebody fantastically successful. There’s just too many variables that have to line up, too many things you don’t have control over. And because of that, like I tend to focus more on, “Let’s just make sure that I don’t screw up all the time. I don’t waste my time and energy and money on things that can be avoided.”

Because I think it was like Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s investing partner who said, “If I can avoid death long enough,” and it’s like Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett, these days are kind of the most famous examples of people where they’re like they don’t really try and knock it out of the park that often. What they try and do is make sure that they’re not doing anything that’s going to cost them in a really, really big way.

So, I would say like, very practically speaking here, mental models and cognitive biases, there are lists of them, there are blogposts, a hundred different ways to find these things, but cognitive biases are those things that your emotional brain, mostly, uses to help you make quick decisions. But a lot of times your cognitive biases will betray you, right? You’ll have the recency effect, you’ll have the anchoring effect, there’s always kind of different things.

And the more you learn about them, it’s kind of like learning about your own weaknesses. And the more you learn about them, it makes sure they’re like every time I’m making a big decision I always run through the list of cognitive biases and kind of ask myself, “Am I susceptible to this one right now? Have I considered this from the other angle?”

Same thing with mental models which are usually just kind of a way of offsetting these cognitive biases and knowledge blockers. Like, play devil’s advocate for yourself. Always look at it the other way when you can. And like they said, one really great example, as I said, “If you want to figure out how to really, really help something, a classic mental model is to, instead, think about what would really, really hurt something,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Russell Klusas
If you say, “I want to have the biggest impact in India that I can have over the next 10 years to raise the poverty level. I want to bring people out of poverty.” Like, the best way to find out what you can do to help is to start with going like, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?” And that’s when you start at identifying things like infrastructure, right? Where it’s like, “The internet would be great, but we need clean water first. We can’t worry about whether or not they’ve got one laptop per child until they have a way of charging that laptop.” And those things are often forgotten.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. So, I’d love to hear, when it comes to the mental models and the cognitive biases, you said there’s these books and there’s blogposts. Do you have a couple of favorites or go-tos that have helped you expand your thinking and arrive at your checklist?

Russell Klusas
Sure. What I would say is on the book front, there’s a book called Seeking Wisdom from Darwin to Munger by a guy named Peter Bevelin who’s a professor and who was an early investor in Berkshire and he’s just kind of written down a lot of the things that they learned over time, and it’s a great book. It’s one of my favorites.

I technically work in complex systems. I’m a system thinker as from a field’s perspective, and people always talk to me about like The Fifth Element and it’s kind of more pop culture type books, but I would take the Seeking Wisdom on any day of the week.

Pete Mockaitis
We had Matt Bodnar also mentioned that back in Episode 127, so two votes of confidence.

Russell Klusas
Yeah, for some reason I just find that like any time I bring up that book, and somebody has read it, I am almost instantly like kind of on the same wavelength as that person. It just works out great. The other one I would probably surface is the cognitive bias codex which you can find on Medium. It started off as like somebody just running through ever cognitive bias they can and trying to explain it, and then it turned into pretty elegant little poster. It’s gotten more and more kind of popular over the days, but like that’s a good place to start from a cognitive bias standpoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Okay. Well, so then, I’d also like to get your take then in terms of that’s a great career tip in looking at the T plus two, T plus three, getting a real clear sense for, “What are we talking about here? In what ways might this totally go south or be disappointing?” Now, I’d love to get your take on, I’ve mentioned at the beginning, you’ve got quite a knack for networking, meeting people, building relationships. How do you do it? It seems like, I don’t want to mean this in a pejorative sense, but you mentioned a lot of names that’s very impressive. And like, “Dang, son, how did you end up in a room with Tony Robbins or whomever?” Like, what’s your philosophy and your best practices in this game?

Russell Klusas
Yeah, I would say that it’s actually kind of ironic that you would say that because nowadays, out here in Silicon Valley, as opposed to U of I, I think I’m actually one of the less impressive networker there is. There are some people here who are just truly amazing at it and they are actual extroverts as opposed to myself who’s an introvert kind of masquerading as an extrovert when I need to.

There are some people out there that I think are amazing at it that I would encourage them to continue to get. But I do think I have a couple, which is, the first one, like if you’re not an extrovert, if you’re not someone who naturally feels really comfortable like going out and striking up conversations with new people that you don’t know, get to know some people who are, befriend some people who are because I would tell you that a vast majority of what you’re saying are like impressive names that I’ve gotten to be in the room with, they’re not people that I reached out to cold.

They’re not people that I begged and borrowed and stole to kind of get in the room with them. They’re people where my friends knew them and decided that I should end up in a room with them at some point. It’s through a lot of introductions, so it’s just like understand in your industry who the kind of super connectors are, and try to defend those people, and tell them that.

If there’s one of the things that kind of openly tell people is like, “If there’s ever any one you think I should meet, up the ladder from me, down the ladder from me, regardless, like if there’s someone that you think I should meet, like just make an introduction, let me know. I will take the time.” Because I don’t do a lot of cold outreach, but I get a lot of great introductions. I meet some great people that way.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. And how does one go about identifying super connectors?

Russell Klusas
I think it’s kind of like with any, like for me, for example, my partner is just world class at this particular thing. He has traveled the world in his entire life from being a professional musician who’s on the road to living in a number of different countries with his wife who’s a diplomat. He’s a guy who’s had to kind of like drop into new communities and find his home over and over and over again, and he’s just really great at it.

And really early on in working with him and getting to know him, both as a friend and as kind of a business partner, I recognized that that was a weakness of mine in some cases and that he would be really great at helping me fill that. So, like you would generally know who they are once you meet them because they’re going to be the ones who immediately want to introduce you to somebody else, or the ones where you’re being introduced to them. It’s definitely one of these you-know-it-when-you-see-it kind of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you.

Russell Klusas
The other thing that I would say is probably as important if not more important than anything is always focus on creating more value than you capture. Like especially when you’re trying to kind of go upstream. The most important thing you can do if you really want to get in the room with somebody who’s important is be able to bring some value to their life.

It’s easy to think that just because they’re that really big and important, and you’re just getting started, that there’s nothing that you can do that’d be valuable to them, but that’s just not true. It’s just not. You have a certain hunger and a certain perspective on things that they just don’t have anymore. It’s just like always be thinking, “How can I find some way to provide value to these people?” And then offer that value up and just consistently commit yourself to creating more value than you try to capture. And, eventually, it will take hold and it will start to work.

And if you’re a kind of a good person, you’re willing to give back, you’ll continue to do that no matter what height you reach in your career, that’s how you just end up with a lot of really good friends, or a lot of people that you can kind of be on call when the time is needed.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it, yes. Generosity is a theme that’s come up numerous times and I’m totally, totally on board there. I’d also want to get your take when it comes to in your realm of Silicon Valley, startups, fast pace, everything changing so fast, what are your pro tips when it comes to learning quickly and adapting smartly as stuff evolve and changes?

Russell Klusas
One thing I’d say is having that goal in mind. The most important step in learning quickly is make sure you’re learning the right stuff. There are a lot of things that you can spend a lot of time learning that are kind of irrelevant to you. A good example of that is like I will often be asked by small business owners that I still run into whether or not they should learn to use WordPress or some other kind of site creator.

And I often tell them, like, “You should just pay somebody to do that.” And the reason isn’t that they can’t figure it out, or that it wouldn’t be interesting to them, it’s that the tools that are used to put websites together radically change every four or five years. And if you make a decent website as a small business, you shouldn’t be creating an entirely new website more than every four or five years.

Which means you’re spending all of this time upfront to learn something that by the time you need it again it won’t be relevant anymore. People forget that knowledge, like all other assets, has a decay rate. So, just make sure you’re learning the stuff that’s going to be valuable to you. The other benefit of kind of keeping that end goal in mind is it kind of forces you to remember that chances are, with the way the world is going, your job role will not exist in 30 years whether it’s artificial intelligence, globalization, automation, like there’s all these different things that come into play.

But the truth is your role isn’t going to exist, but if your job role isn’t going to exist, your job goal probably will.

Pete Mockaitis
Tweet that, it rhymes.

Russell Klusas
One of the things you notice about your job goal is that you start thinking about the people that you’re serving. If you’re a designer, people aren’t going to be using Sketch five years from now or ten years from now most likely. It’s just not a probable thing. But are they going to be trying to design great user experiences that help get people the exact information they wanted, the exact time they want it with the lowest friction as possible? Of course, they are.

Like, in psychology, learn these things that are kind of has a certain level of permanence. And the thing about having this kind of longer-term goal in mind is it helps focus you to make sure that you’re spending your time on the things that are really valuable so you don’t get surprised and kind of caught off guard.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Russell Klusas
One of the things that I worry about when I talk to a lot of young people today, especially people who are doing very, very well, is this kind of like – I don’t mean to harsh – but there’s like a certain level of hubris that our generation has around our own skillsets, right? Like the compare and contrast is like a web developer, a full stack developer here in Silicon Valley, versus like a coal miner, right?

And they look at these coal miners, and they go, “Oh, man, like that skillset, it’s completely useless. Their job, that’s not needed anymore. How could those people let the world kind of pass them by like that?” And I look at them and go, like, “Man, you know that’s going to happen to us, too, right? We’re not only going to disrupt all these other people. Eventually we’re going to disrupt ourselves. We’re one good algorithm away from not meeting a friend in engineering anymore.”

It’s like you have to assume that the time of you being able to join one company for your entire career, or stay in one role for your entire career, and just move up to levels of seniority, almost those have gone. You need to be constantly looking forward and seeing what you can do to make sure that you are always on kind of the cutting edge of what it is that it takes to fulfill the goals of your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And as we kind of move into the final phases, I want to get sort of your reflection. So, you’ve seen a lot of people and inserting them into a lot of roles at the cool companies, and the up and comers across Silicon Valley. And because it shows up in the news a lot that I think some people have like startup envy, like, “Oh, man, that’d be so cool. That’s be so sick to even work…” you know, fill in the blank, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, whatever.

So, I’d love to get your take on what are some things that the professional world at large can learn and model from Silicon Valley? And what are some things that Silicon Valley really needs to tone down and learn from the rest of the professional world?

Russell Klusas
Oh, yes, I’m very passionate about this topic.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Russell Klusas
What I’d say is I almost separate kind of old-school Silicon Valley to the one that you see today, and I’m sure that everybody says this about their particular time. But the inspiration that I think we can take from the old-school Silicon Valley is to think big. Be ambitious. Recognize that Moore’s Law and these things that we get to do with our time, they can fundamentally change the world. I mean, people forget there were no iPhones 11 years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Russell Klusas
It’s only like 10 and a half years ago there was no iPhone at all. And from the first year of the iPhone there were no apps, there were no external apps, there’s no app market. Like imagine living your life without a smartphone, like the iPhone today, it’s crazy to think that. Like, in our parents’ lifetime the microwave was created.

These are transformative changes, and we have some huge problems that are facing the world right now, and to be even bigger ones that are likely to come with the kind of rapidly-changing market conditions we’re going to see with all this artificial intelligence stuff. Think big. Solve things that matter, right? Do work worth doing.

From today’s Silicon Valley, probably even more than the early days, the thing that we do really, really well here is we try to keep the cost of failure low. We look at things over longer-time horizons and more holistically than a lot of the rest of the world. Being from Chicago, not to mention friends that I have that are from East Asia and other kind of community-oriented societies, like failure hurt.

I failed a couple times when I was in Illinois. You feel like a failure and you feel like you’ve done something wrong. Whereas one of the things that Silicon Valley is really good at is recognizing that the 25-year old entrepreneur who raised half a million bucks from friends and family or angel investors or something like that, and spent a year and a half busting his butt trying to make something work, and fails miserably, like he may be a failed entrepreneur but he’s going to be the most qualified young employee you could possibly hire because they know what it’s like.

They say the best way to get promoted is to get your boss promoted. Like somebody who has tried and failed but had really worked for it, there’s very little that will prepare you to succeed in the world like being thrown in the deep end, and that’s something that the Valley is good at. We value it. The people whose startups failed here, they get recruiting calls all day long from the moment they accept it’s time to move on.

Now, on the flipside of that, I think we’re starting to see some of the pretty significant negative ramifications of what technology can do. And, on the one hand, there’s like the really surface level stuff. There’s things like, well, social media addiction, and the impact that that has on teenagers, and the impact that that has on relationships, the impact it has on the way we see the world.

Like, I am not someone who believes that teenagers posting things on Instagram, and then valuing themselves based on how many likes they get. I don’t believe that that’s going to be a good thing. And like so many other people are kind of starting to say, I think that social media addiction is going to become the sugar of this decade, and I think that Silicon Valley is definitely at fault for a lot of these things.

We do a lot of things that are right, and oftentimes just not out of any malicious intent but just out of ambitious excitement and kind of a little bit of naiveté, like we do what we can to make things grow as fast as we can, and increase engagement as much as we can, but those things, cognitive biases, that I just got done telling everyone, they should pay attention to so they don’t make mistakes.

Those things, cognitive biases, are used against people to get them to use products more and more and more and more. And I think Silicon Valley, nowadays, needs to start remembering that not everything is fail fast. There are some things that we should be thinking through the second and third order effects to make sure that we’re okay with where it is, right?

Like, Twitter is great. Without Twitter we probably don’t have Arab Spring. But without Twitter we also don’t have Donald Trump and fake news, right? Without Facebook and Instagram and some of these other things, we don’t have everyone being able to find – like if you go on the internet today you can find your tribe. You can find a group of people who are like you, and that’s amazing for that kid who felt like he was totally alone in his small town in the Midwest.

But we also have troll groups and there are things that make it worse. We need to start thinking through the ramifications of our actions, and sometimes we need to slow down a bit. And we need to make sure that we consider the real-world ramifications that some of this disruption will have because I don’t think that we’re always going to be happy with the results, and although I hope that everything that has already kind of been put out there already, I hope we’re going to figure out ways to kind of offset that and deal with it.

I spend a lot of time talking to people about automation and artificial intelligence, universal-based income, and, “What are we going to do when the world changes as things get even faster and faster here?” We got to be really careful about it from a systems perspective, like the number one job in 47 States is truck driver.

Most people are populated as truck drivers in 47 of our States, and Elon Musk could singlehandedly put all of those people out of business. And our economies are not setup to have 4% or 5% or 6% of the economy go unemployed all at once. And that’s what happens, because when semi-trucks become automated it’s not only all the truck drivers, it’s a lot of those mechanics, it’s all those little gas stations along the way, it’s all the little hotels and restaurants that are put all up and down I-80 running across the country. They’re going to have some big ramifications of these things and it’s kind of like our responsibility. If we’re going to break in, we’ve got to worry about how to fix it, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, Russ, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Russell Klusas
No, I would say listen to things like this, listen to podcasts and whatnot, but this should be the way that you get psyched up in the day. This is the way that you get motivated and you get excited and you get inspired. But, at some point, also turn these things off and just get to work. Just go do something. Go write something, go read something, go learn something that’s going to kind of move you forward at the end of every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Russell Klusas
Oh, you gave me this one ahead of time that I was kind of torn on it. So, I have two, I’m going to share them both with you. The first one is kind of speaking directly to what we were just talking about, which is, “It’s not a super power if it can’t be used for evil.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Russell Klusas
And I think that people really underappreciate that. Like those things that can result in fantastic growth and wonderful success, there’s often a flipside to that, that do some real harm, and you’ve got to be appreciative of that and understand it so that you can be looking for it. It’s the defense against the dark arts, if you will.

And the other one is that people often don’t realize this, but like I used to play hockey, and I watched a lot of people who are figure skaters, kind of at practice. And one thing that I always notice was that professional figure skaters, the people who are really experts, they fall down a lot more than the amateurs do, and it’s because amateurs tend to practice what they’re good at because they’re looking for the reinforcement of, “Hey, I’m good at this. I know how to do this.” Whereas, professionals are always pushing. They’re always stretching themselves to try to accomplish something more, and they know that falling down is kind of part of the process.

Pete Mockaitis
I like how that is sort of clear contrast and visual. Nice. Thank you. How about a favorite study or bit of research?

Russell Klusas
I was originally going to say the Seeking Wisdom book is a good book to read. In the absence of that, if there was one like scientist that I would say that almost everyone should study, his name would be Claude Shannon, and he was the guy who created information theory, and was actually responsible for a huge percentage of the things that we do day in and day out right now when it comes to computer science and the early days of AI and whatnot.

But Claude Shannon was the guy who like technically he was working on encryptions for military stuff. But this guy, if you understand his work you’ll find yourself with a greater understanding of how people work and it’ll give you a high level of empathy because you’re going to start understanding that the world that you’re living in, the reality that you believe to be true is not reality for everyone else.

Everyone has their own interpretation of reality, and the sooner that you realize that, and the sooner you start focusing on, “What’s that other person’s reality? And how can I make sure that I understand and empathizing with that?” the farther you’ll go in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And any other key books you’d recommend?

Russell Klusas
Because I know a lot of the people here are talking about getting a job, look into something called The Minto Pyramid Principle.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Barbara Minto.

Russell Klusas
Great writing is important in your career, and being able to present your ideas is important in your career, and Barbara Minto is uniquely qualified to kind of help people organize those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite tool?

Russell Klusas
Like, honestly, my favorite tool is our Dry-Erase Markers, specifically Ultra Fine Tip Dry-Erase Markers because I have really small handwriting and I have a whole bunch of whiteboards in my office. That’s like my mid version of it, if you have an office with whiteboards. If you don’t have an office with whiteboards, get 11X17 paper because you can express a lot more ideas on a little bit bigger sheet and it gives a little bit extra consequence. And then when you have some money to burn, go buy yourself something called a Microsoft Studio because it’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
What is a Microsoft Studio?

Russell Klusas
You will notice that the moment you type it in Google because it’s it had this beautiful launch with this wonderful advertisement. It’s a 27-inch screen that you can push down to kind of like have a flat kind of drafting type surface and it has the pen tool on it. And as someone who spent my entire life trying to take the notes that I take on paper when I’m reading and writing and all the stuff, and put them onto a screen, the Studio is just amazing.

Now, if it’s just as a replacement for pen and paper, it’s just a ridiculous waste of money. It’s something that’s like $3500 or something like that, but it’s fantastic. It’s so good that I can’t convince myself to buy another one, so I literally will carry this desktop. I will put it into the original box and carry it back and forth to my house on the weekends to make sure that I can still get at it if I have a good idea. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And how about a favorite habit?

Russell Klusas
Like, figure out how to find your own flow. I’m sure that flow has been talked about a number of times on this podcast. But you got to find your own routine and kind of the one that works for you. But you should know what it takes to get yourself into a mindset that allows for kind of maximal output.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. And what is it for you?

Russell Klusas
I have a very unique working schedule. Literally, the way that I space out and the way that I space out my week, like I have a true commitment to it where I do the exact same thing every week and it’s absolutely crazy. And I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody else, that it works for me. And it’s important to kind of keeping me centered.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to know, how do you enforce the rest of the world when they want a piece of you at certain times such that you stick with the schedule?

Russell Klusas
Ironically, that’s why my schedule exists. So, I am a person who is consistently in the maker category where I’m doing research and trying to create cool new things on my own. I’m in the manager category because I have a couple of businesses that I’m responsible for running and staff and clients and all those things.

I also have family, and I’ve got to find a way to serve those three people. Forgot about social and all that other stuff. Nobody has any of that if you have these three, but it’s hard to kind of make sure that I can fulfill my obligations to these groups of people that I really genuinely want to spend time with, but also find time to get in the zone myself and get stuff done.

So, I, for example, I work a lot of nights, so I will sometimes start my day at noon or at 1:00 o’clock and I’ll spend four or five hours with my staff, and then I’ll kind of work all night so that I can get stuff done, and so that I can be available to my kids when they wake up and when they go to bed. But that’s just kind of what works for me, and it’s really about prioritizing my time and making sure that I want to set myself up to have as much success as I can, and to kind of minimize the switching costs, the cognitive load of going from one thing to another.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I see. And so, what are the sleep hours then?

Russell Klusas
I mean, these are ones that I literally would not recommend to anybody at all because I’ve been doing this – and you know this, as one of my older friends – I’ve been doing this for a very, very long time, maintaining these crazy schedules, but I generally come into work on Monday around 10:00 or 11:00, and then I stay at work until Tuesday night around 5:00 or 6:00, and I work that whole time.

Then I go home and see my kids Tuesday night, I wake up with my kids on Wednesday morning, and spend a few hours with them there. And then I do it again, I go in Wednesday afternoon, I work all night, I go home Thursday, and then I do it again on Friday.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Russell Klusas
So, like for the last year or so, I’ve only slept four nights a week but it’s definitely not something I would recommend to the masses because it takes a while to get used to, and it’s also not something that I would do if it weren’t for the nature of my work right now. Like,       there are reasons why I don’t want to go to sleep with half of an idea, but I would expect that to change.

But it’s more about the fact that I found myself for too long feeling like I was always having to shortchange somebody, and I didn’t want to not be there for my kids ever, and not ever be home during the week, and I didn’t want to have to blow off my staff, and not be able to take new meetings. I also didn’t want to miss on the time that I felt was important for me continuing to make progress on my life’s work, and so this is the schedule that I found worked for me and it turns out that I don’t really value sleep probably that I should have, certainly not more than I value the other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. That is fascinating. Thank you. I knew your hours were interesting but I didn’t know that they were so systematically repeated and in this fashion and it’s great.

Russell Klusas
Yeah, I’ve never been a big like World Wrestling Federation fan but I have become enamored with The Rock over the last kind of two or three years here, because oftentimes I am up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning or 4:00 o’clock in the morning, and for me that’s like mid-day a lot of times. I’m really just starting to get going.

I’ll take a break just to kind of give myself a little reset on something I’m working on, and I kept going online. And when I’ve opened Instagram, or something like that, I would see The Rock, and The Rock would also be up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. He would be saying and doing the exact same thing I was saying and doing to myself. He’d be literally in the gym, in the Iron Paradise, he calls it, because he wants to make sure that he is the hardest worker in the room.

And I always thought to myself, like, “Man, this is the People’s sexiest man in the world, and the highest-earning actor, and all these things, and yet he always grounds himself by saying he does not sacrifice his time in the gym,” whether it’s a 12-hour day or a 30-hour day, that guy is in the gym because it’s not work for him. That’s how he keeps himself centered.

And I really, really, really respect his work ethic and I think he and I share the same mentality, that we’re either going to win or lose, but if we lose we’re going to be 100% sure that we did everything we could possibly do to succeed. Like I don’t like quitting, so that’s the only thing. I take a lot of risks in my life, and I’d failed plenty of times, but I don’t quit, and I like that mentality and then that keeps me focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. And is there a particular nugget that you share when you’re working with folks that really seems to connect and resonate with them, they’re taking notes and nodding their heads, like saying, “Yes, Russ. Yes”?

Russell Klusas
Honestly, I don’t know because that implies that I’m saying something that’s making them extra successful when in reality that’s not my job. Like, my job isn’t to make them fantastically successful. My job is just to kind of watch their back and make sure that they don’t fail. I’m Jiminy Cricket in a lot of their lives. So, a lot of times I’m having kind of like radically honest conversations with them about things that matter, but mostly I just want to make sure that they know that we’re there for them when we can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Russell Klusas
I’d probably point them to Tradecraft if we’re plugging something, go to Tradecraft.com. Otherwise, I would say go find yourself Claude Shannon because he will change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Russell Klusas
Know what your TM plus two is. Make sure that the next job that you’re getting, like recognize that. Like I used to be a speechwriter, and I learned from some really great people on that, and they often told me, “You know what the point about first sentence is? To get someone to listen to the second sentence.” Like, it’s really stressful when you’re just trying to get odd jobs, especially early in your career when you’re in survival mode.

The money is kind of running out of your bank account, you’re getting pressure from your parents or see your friends get jobs. It’s really easy to kind of lose sight of the big picture. And just recognize that every job you get, every opportunity you take, it’s always about kind of going towards that greater goal – your vocation, your life’s work. Be thinking five years out because, I promise you, it’s easier. A lot of the details fade away. It’s not as scary when you’re thinking five years out. It just either feels right or it doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Russ, thanks so much for taking this time. This has been a ton of fun. We finally recorded a conversation of ours. Hopefully, it’s helpful to the world. And keep on rocking.

Russell Klusas
Thank you very much, Pete.

234: Sharper Critical Thinking for Better Solutions with Mike Figliuolo

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Mike Figliuolo ponders on why critical thinking is becoming increasingly important and how to maximize your critical thinking skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why slowing down will help you better solve problems
  2. How to differentiate facts from judgments
  3. How to use the 5 “whys” and the 7 “so whats” to think more clearly about causes and effects

About Mike 

Mike Figliuolo is the Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS, a consulting and training firm that helps leaders think better. He’s authored numerous books on leadership, thinking, and communication.He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as a commissioned officer in the Army. He then joined McKinsey and Company as a management consultant. He later worked at Capital One Financial as Group Manager of Strategy & Analysis and as Director of Specialty Collections. He was responsible for ~$1B in collections, a $125MM budget and the performance of 150 employees. The initiatives his teams put in place delivered over $125MM in value.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Mike Figliuolo Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Mike, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Mike Figliuolo
It’s my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me as a guest.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Well, you’ve been on the list since Episode 3 with Victor Prince’s co-author, and now seemed like a fine time. So, I’m glad you made it happen.

Mike Figliuolo
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Now I understand you have a bit of a fondness for skydiving. What’s the backstory here?

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, not really, and that’s what’s funny about it. So, I was in the army, and I’ve always hated heights. My father used to laugh at me when we would go up on the roof to clean out the gutters and I’m looking like Spider-Man plastered to the roof, just worried about falling off. So when I was in the army, they have you go to military schools during your summers when you’re at West Point. And one of my summers I put in for a specific type of very ground-based training, and the Army and its wisdom decided that I would be much better off jumping out of airplanes. So, I went through Airborne School down at Fort Benning, Georgia, jumped out of a plane five times, got my airborne wings and have never done it since. So, cool experience; not necessarily something that I want to go through again.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I totally misinterpreted that tidbit here. You’ve done it, but you didn’t enjoy it.

Mike Figliuolo
I mean, it was cool. It was cool. After the second jump you’re like, “Okay, I’m probably not going to die, so I may as well enjoy the view.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I’ve done it once and I liked it. I could do it again. My wife isn’t a fan though of the idea.

Mike Figliuolo
It’s a little different when you’ve got on a rucksack and a simulated weapon and there’s eight of you going out the plane one after the other after the other and you got a static line yanking you around. And you’re only about a thousand feet up and you’re trying to hit that patch of really rough dirt below in the Fort Benning sun. So, you probably had a little bit more of a pleasurable experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was. It was kind of cool, and the breeze falling through…

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, we didn’t have that, no.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us a little bit about your company thoughtLEADERS.

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, we are a leadership development and training firm. We work mostly with large corporates like Google, Abbott, Discover Financial, the Federal Reserve, and we teach topics of leadership, communications, problem-solving, decision-making. I like to say we teach all the topics that everybody needs that nobody ever teaches you.

We have a really strong bias toward heavy hands-on application in the classroom, and the thing that I hold up as different about us is we’re all business people. We’re not academicians, we’re not career facilitators; we’re business people up on the podium. So, we understand the participants’ challenges and we’re able to help them bridge from our tools and frameworks to their reality, which then increases the likelihood that they apply our methods.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. So now, I kind of re-thought of you when I was checking out your LinkedIn learning course Critical Thinking, and I was digging in, enjoying it. And so I’d like to get your take on just the importance of critical thinking in the hierarchy of professional skills. I thought I had seen it somewhere in some report that it was like the top thing professionals need, but I couldn’t relocate it when I tried to Google and prep for today. So maybe you can orient us to that.

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah. So I believe part of it came out of a New York Times article that was based upon a report that LinkedIn actually put together. And LinkedIn went through people’s profiles, they looked at who got new jobs and what were the skills that they had either explicitly stated on their LinkedIn profile or that they could deduce from the person’s background. And critical thinking was one of the top ones, if not the top one on that list.

So, as I look around the importance of critical thinking increases every day, and reason for that is, the speed with which we’re making decisions is so incredible that if you don’t pause and really think through something, you’re going to create a bigger problem. You may have thought you solved the problem, but you just created an issue that is exponentially larger.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, it can either spiral or you can end up solving a problem and then solving it again and solving it again and solving it again, and it ends up being really wasteful and inefficient. And when you’re operating in a world where you need to be moving fast, you don’t have time to be wrong, which means you need to slow down and make sure that you’re right.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, you can take it to the world of construction – when you’re finishing a basement or an attic you’re always taught, “Measure twice, cut once”, and that’s deliberately slowing down, making sure you’re thinking about what you’re doing, and then you take action and the action is correct; rather than, “Measure once, cut once, because I’m really busy and I’ve got to move. Oh look, I just cut the two-by-four on the wrong side of the line and now it’s too short. And now I’ve got to cut another one and another one, and there’s waste involved.”

So just by slowing down, looking at what you’re trying to solve, assess the situation properly, come up with a solution and think through the impacts of that solution if you implement it, and then implement – the likelihood of doing something bad in that cycle, because you short circuit it, goes down dramatically.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
That’s exactly where I was going to go. I don’t think it’s just politics; I think things have started moving so fast and people have so much information overload, that they’re trying to react to everything coming at them as quickly as they’re able, whether it’s an email or a text or a tweet or whatever it is, it requires an immediate reaction. Or they think it requires an immediate reaction – let me rephrase – they think it does. So, they react immediately without thinking it through.

And I’ll just use the examples – how many times have you seen an article go flying by on Facebook and it has some provocative headline, and all of a sudden you look at the comments and it’s clear that everybody’s getting all vitriolic or offering their perspective? And you realize 95% of those people didn’t even read the article, right? And it’s just we’re not stopping and thinking critically. Or we do read the article and we don’t step back and say, “Well, hang on a minute. Let’s look at who wrote this article, let’s look at if that person has an agenda, let’s understand how they’re trying to position the information, what information are they not sharing with us in order to influence me to do something.”

I had this conversation with a student, a graduate student, who was saying, “Well, I’m going to move to Texas.” I’m like, “Okay. Well, but you live in Pennsylvania. Why are you excited to move to Texas? Do you have family there?” “Well no, no, not at all.” “Okay, why?” They’re like, “I want to get a job in Texas.” “What’s driving this?” “Well, I read this report, and Texas has this and Texas has that and Texas has that, and all these jobs and all this growth and all this stuff.” I’m like, “Okay, so who wrote the report?” “Oh, it was published by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.” “Hm, you think maybe there’s an agenda there? Maybe?” And I’m not saying it’s a biased report, but I’m just saying, stop and understand the circumstances of what you are assessing at that moment, and challenge it, challenge yourself.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, so I was an American Politics major at school actually, and you study a lot of the information that’s put out there and how it’s positioned. And one of the things I was always taught was, understand the difference between facts and judgment. So, when you’re reading an article, ask yourself, “Is this a fact or is it the author’s judgments or the newscaster’s judgment of that fact? Is it their assessment of what that fact means, their interpretation?”

So by taking whatever piece of information you’re looking at, first of all separate it into the facts and judgments. Then look at the facts first and say, “Okay, are these facts accurate? What was the source of them? What facts are not being included here that could be included that may be skewing the actual facts themselves?” And once you have your arms around what the fact base is and how it may or may not be biased, just with the data collection and data sharing, then you are much better qualified to assess the assessments of those facts and say, “Is this a fair judgment? This author is saying that this company is doing bad things. Okay, based on the facts, would a reasonable person draw the same conclusion, or are they just extrapolating from a single data point?”

So by challenging each of those sort of assertions or each of those assessments – that’s critical thinking. That’s asking those questions versus just saying, “Oh yeah, that’s a bad company, of course. They did this one bad thing and therefore they hate people.” It’s like, “Really?” If you separate it out and really question both sides of that pile of information, I think you end up being much savvier, in terms of the information you consume.

I don’t watch the news. I go online, I have certain news sources where I am pulling facts from and I’m trying to get as unbiased a set of facts as I possibly can, and then I’m forming my own assessment. “What does this mean?” And sometimes I’m challenging other people’s assessments or I’m asking the questions of, “What’s not here? What’s not being presented?”, but I’m not letting somebody else interpret the facts for me. That’s not happening.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
For me it ends up being, I’m looking at primary sources. You know what I like? I actually like a lot of the financial websites – places like MarketWatch or E-Trade or whatever. I’m reading business press releases – things about earnings or market research reports or whatever, because I want to get as close to primary facts as I possibly can. And when you go to financial sites, they tend to throw a little bit less assessment into the facts of what’s going on. It’s like, “Okay, here’s the new tax law, here’s what it means, here are the tax brackets, here’s how these deductions go away, here’s the average size of that deduction.” And they just give you the data.

And there may be a little bit of interpretation that goes there, there may be a little bit of bias, but that’s much less bias than if I go to CNN or Fox News, and it’s like, “And you get no deduction and you have to murder your first child.” It’s like, “Really?” It’s just so bombastic, because what people don’t understand is news media has become entertainment first and news second. And you need to understand that; you really need to understand what their agenda is. Their agenda is to attract eyeballs, which attracts advertisers, which attracts dollars. It’s really simple. And the way you attract the eyeballs is with very interesting content that I can consume and feeds my ingoing biases anyway, and tells me I’m right.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I guess for me it’s a question of, what’s the impact of that item on your life and the world around you, and how much importance do you sort of ascribe to that impact? So for example, I just got this wonderful letter in the mail from my health insurance company, telling me that my premiums for next year have gone from $960 a month to $1,600 a month. So we’re talking, what is that, an 80% increase, something like that? So we’re talking about a big impact on me – I want to understand the facts, and I have wanted to understand the facts for the last several years, around what are the changes in Affordable Care Act, what are the marketplace dynamics, who’s moving into the market, out of the market, because I’m sitting there trying to figure out where is healthcare going. I’ve got three kids – what’s going to be the right plan for me, how do I adjust to this?

So I do invest time and energy in understanding that information, seeking out facts and making my own assessment, because it’s going to govern my thoughts on a topic that’s pretty large. It’ll drive my voting behaviors, it’ll drive if I decide to support a particular political candidate one way or the other. Now, let’s contrast that with something that I say it really isn’t important to me and I’m not going to be able to have a big impact on it, other than every first Tuesday in November. So, am I going to really worry about that issue? And if the answer is “No”, then I’m not going to give it any air time; I’ve got better stuff to do.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, I think it’s definitely the 5 “Why’s” and the 7 “So what’s”. So, the 5 “Why’s” – when you see something happen, ask “Why” five times. And by the time you get to the fourth or fifth “Why”, there’s an insight there, there’s a root cause there. The way that works is, we had a client where I learned the 5 “Why’s” the first time, and I was an analyst on the team, and my engagement manager asked me, “Mike, what analysis did you do this morning?” I said, “Well, here are the numbers I ran, and it looks like this one metric is going up.” And he said, “Okay. Well, why?” I said, “What do you mean ‘Why’?” He said, “Why is that metric going up?” And I stopped and I thought and I said, “Well, the client is probably doing this.” And he said, “Okay, why?” I said, “What do you mean ‘Why’?” He said, “Why is the client doing that?” And I stopped and I thought a little bit harder and I said, “Well, they’re probably doing that because of this.” And he said, “Okay, why?” I’m like, “Dude, what is with the ‘Why’s’?” And he said, “Mike, our job is to have insights for our clients. We have to understand the root causes of what’s going on, because once we do, then we can actually make recommendations that address the true problem that they’re facing.”

So at that moment I understood what the 5 “Why’s” were, and we continued to walk that back and understand what is driving this behavior. And it turns out we were initially solving for a symptom, and it was something about their compensation plan that was driving a dysfunctional behavior, which drove another dysfunctional behavior, which was driving the metric to go up. So by walking that backward, just stopping and seeing something happening – some event, some symptom – and then walking it back, versus just jumping in to solve the symptom, helps you solve a deeper-seated problem. So that’s the 5 “Why’s”.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, sure. So, let’s see. Let’s talk about my health insurance. Let’s have some fun with this one, not that that’s a raw wound that we’re opening right now. But okay, so my health insurance premium went from $960 a month to $1,600 a month. Okay, why? Why did that happen? Well, it’s because the insurer raised their rates across the entire population. Okay, why? Why did the insurer raise their rates? Well, either because their losses have been going up and they were paying out a lot more in claims last year than they thought, or because they want to be a lot more profitable and they’re just going to start gouging consumers.

Now I’m at a fork where I say, “Okay, which of those seems more likely?” And they’re probably not going to gouge, because it’s just bad business to do that; you’re not going to be able to survive long in that market. So it’s probably because their losses are going up. Okay, why is that happening? Well, it’s probably because the risk pool got adjusted a few years ago when there was a change in the law, in terms of who is eligible, whether they’re going to accept pre-existing conditions, and we put a whole bunch of people in the risk pool for getting insurance that didn’t have it previously. So now it’s just a riskier population and those costs are going up. Okay, why? Why did that happen? Well, we were trying to insure more Americans.

Okay, now I get it. Now I understand what the root cause was – I changed the eligibility population, and that has these downstream impacts, in terms of the cost of my policy. And then you’ve got to get to a point where you say, “Okay, what do I do about that? Is there something I can do to change the way that we’re handling the people in the risk pool? Well, personally, can I change that? No, but could it inform the way I think about Medicare, Medicaid legislation? Can it inform the political candidates that I decide to back or not back?” And then you’ve also got to step back and say, “Okay, how much is for the greater good?” kind of thing. And that’s just one of those things that you walk it back that far and you understand what really made this happen.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I use a tool called a “logic map”, where you have a problem and then you look at what’s driving that problem, and then below that you say, “What are the drivers of that?”, and then below that you say, “What are the drivers of that?” And you just keep disaggregating that big problem into smaller ones. So for example, if my client’s company profits are down, that’s a really big problem; I can’t solve that in one fell swoop. So I break that down and say, “Well, what’s driving profits being being down? Well, it’s either revenues are down or costs are up, or some combination of those two.”

Okay well, those are still big problems – let me break those down. Well, if revenue’s down, it’s either prices are down or volume is down. And again, it might be a combination of those two. But that’s still a big problem. So I think the answer might be on the volume side, so let me break volume down. Well, volume is down either because current customers are buying less, or we’re not selling as many new customers. And all of a sudden I can start seeing some possible solutions emerge. I can get my arms around, current customers aren’t buying as much, so maybe I can go out and place some sales calls on my current customers, or I can go out and try and sell that one new customer along the way. So by breaking that big problem down and disaggregating it into its component parts, I can start seeing what the underlying issues are that are driving the big problem.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, a lot of folks hear about the 80/20, but they don’t know its origins. The 80/20 rule was first coined by a guy by the name of Vilfredo Pareto, who’s Italian, of course. And Pareto was a bit of an economist, and he noticed that in Italy, 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. And he said, “Well, that’s kind of interesting.” He was also a gardener, and he noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pods. And he said, “Well, that’s really interesting, that peas and real estate demonstrate the same behavior – that 20% of the causes drive 80% of the outcomes.” And he coined what’s called “the law of the vital few”, which is really getting you to focus on those 20% of the causes that are driving 80% of the effects.

And I had one situation where I was running a team, one of the people on my team had a portfolio of accounts he was responsible for – it was about 500,000 accounts. And he came to me one day and said, “Mike, you didn’t know I was doing this, but I built this awesome model that helps me totally predict behavior of some of the consumers in my portfolio.” I said, “Well, that’s really cool.” He said, “Yeah, and with that production I can take a differential action and I can have financial impact by treating those accounts differently.” I said, “That’s awesome.”

I said, “I have two questions. One, how many accounts in your portfolio demonstrate that behavior?” And he said, “Well, about 5,000.” I said, “Okay, second question. How many accounts are in your portfolio?” And he said, “About 500,000.” I said, “Hey, how about we focus on the other 495,000 accounts, because as cool as your model is, affecting 5,000 accounts will not have an impact on this business. So stop messing around with small stuff.” And his behavior building that model was a gross violation of the 80/20 rule.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I think the first place to do it is your inbox. And you look at the hundreds of emails that pile up in there, and just think through how much time you’re giving each one and which of those are the important ones and which are the ones that just aren’t. And I look at my inbox and it’s probably blown up right now and I’m constantly getting stuff in there, and I used to get a lot of unsolicited emails from sales people, business development people – since I run my business they’re trying to sell me their solutions or whatever.

So I get these all the time. And I used to be a pretty polite guy; I’d be like, “Okay, they’re running a business. I know what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.” I would write them back and say, “No, not really interested. Thanks for your note.” And then they would write me back invariably and say, “Well, are you sure, ’cause this could really work?” And then I’d write back, “No, not really. Definitely not sure.” And I finally sat there and said, “What am I doing? You idiot, you idiot. You’re giving them all this time, and time is your most valuable resource. You didn’t invite them into your inbox, you’re spending time on that 80% of stuff that will drive zero impact.”

And I just one day vowed I’m going to change my behavior. If I didn’t invite you to my inbox and it’s not something that with a 10-second glance I look at your email and say it’s a fit for what I do, I delete it. And if it shows up again the next time, I then block your email address, because I don’t even want to deal with the two nanoseconds it takes for me to delete a message. So, where I encourage people to go is, go to your inbox and sort of filter that stuff and say, “Of the 100 messages in there, which are the 20 that actually matter, in terms of my job performance, in terms of team performance? And then what’s the 80% that isn’t going to have any real impact, and how many of those can I delete, how many of those can I just sort of mail it in with a quick response?” And just sort of re-prioritize your work.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
Well, my inbox is usually pretty manageable; I think right now I’ve got 30 emails in there total, and I’m freaking out a little bit because usually I’m under 15. And the way that I manage that is, I get to do one of three things when I get an email: I can read it and respond immediately; I can read it and delete it; or I can read it and act on it later if it’s something that’s big and meaningful.

And and you have to do it right when you read that email; you have to make one of those three choices, because there’s so much friction in our day of, I open an email, I look at it and I say, “Oh, I’ll get to this later.” And then later on I come back and I open it again and I go, “Oh, I’ll get to this later, I’ll get to this later.” And they keep piling up, and just the friction of opening and closing that email, and opening and closing it, will suck so much time out of your day. If instead you open it and say, “Okay, this is from Mike. I understand what he wants; I don’t need to answer this. Delete.” And you delete it in that moment – you’re going to be a lot more efficient, you’re going to actually save a lot of time.

Now, for folks that I coach – I do some executive coaching – and when they show me their inbox and there’s like 2,000 emails in there, the first thing we do is we stack it by name, and then we go in and find, “Okay, all of these from Mike – we don’t need those anymore. We highlight them all, we delete them.” After we do that by name and that deletion, then we go through and file ones that can be filed. So a lot of folks will have standard reports, and they’ll get that stack of emails from a report team. It’s like, “Okay, let’s highlight those all and and put them in the report folder, ’cause you don’t need them in your active inbox.”

Then we’ll sort by subject line, and we’ll go through. There’s that one thread with 30 messages in it – okay, let’s delete the other 29 in that thread so we’re down to one item in that thread. And usually just those two actions takes care of about 40 to 50% of the inbox, believe it or not, if somebody’s got a really clogged up inbox. And then from there, adopt the new behaviors of read and delete, read and respond, or read and do later, when you have a meaningful chunk of time to act on the request.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
I think that’s really a function of your role and your style, and how you prefer to consume information. I am a sort of “instant in, instant out” – that’s how my brain works really well. So my email is always open, and when something comes in, I’ll throw an eye to it, and it’ll be read and respond, read and delete, or read and do later, typically. And it’s not like I’m just sitting there glued to the screen all day waiting for emails to come in. If I’m working on something meaningful, like this podcast conversation, my inbox is closed right now. And I know there’s emails coming in. As soon as I get off, I’m going to tackle it and just sort of whack through the things that I can get out of there and know what I’ll do later on.

Other people function much better in chunks, so they may do three blocks of email during the day – they may do a morning block, a lunchtime block, and an end-of-day block. But again, it’s still going to be the same behavior that I encourage, which is read and delete, read and respond, read and do later. And read and do later is for something that you can’t respond to in that moment, like I would have to run an analysis for you. I’ll read it and do it later, I’ll put the analysis actually on my calendar and say, “I’m going to block this one hour to do this one email”, and then I will get it done when it comes up on the calendar.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
No, it’s not that simple. I wish it was, but it’s not.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
So, when you look at a solution, and let’s say I’m going to fix something, I should ask, “Okay, if I fix this, so what? What happens? What’s the implication?” And then if that implication comes to pass, “Okay, so what? What happens if that gets fixed?” And then if that changes, “Okay, so what?” And what it’s preventing is the issue of, you think you fixed something now, but you created a new problem in the future that you now have to deal with. And by the way, it’s a bigger problem than you originally started with.

A lot of times I do this – I’ve finished basements, I’ve finished attics, putting up framing and Sheetrock and wiring and everything, and I don’t always do the “So what’s”. So, at one point I was doing a built-in sort of very simple entertainment center, and I said, “Well, this is going to be hard to construct in place, so what I’ll do is I’ll build the frame on the floor and then I’ll just pick it up and put it in place, and then do all the finishing up there.”

So I build this giant frame on the floor, and then I go to put it in place, and I start tilting it up, and I forgot about a guy by the name of Pythagoras, who would have told me, “Hey, you idiot, the hypotenuse when you start tilting this thing up is going to mean that it will get jammed on the ceiling before you put it into place.” So Mike didn’t think about the “So what” if I build this on the floor and I need to stand up, so what happens? Well, that means I’m going to need to stand it up and it’s going to be at an angle. Okay, it’s an angle. So what? Oh, the ceiling height is lower than that angle, which means this is going to get stuck and I’m going to be sitting there beating it with a 5-pound sledge hammer for about 45 minutes to get it into place. So it’s just seeing what new problems you can end up creating if you solve the problem at hand.

Pete

Mike Figliuolo
It does. So The Elegant Pitch is all about how do you create a clear and compelling recommendation with the right facts, the right data, and do so in a way that your stakeholders will buy into it and approve your idea. So, it does require the critical thought to say, “What does my stakeholder want? What is my recommendation and how does it tie to their objectives, therefore what’s the right information that I’m going to need to bring to the table to create a persuasive case? What’s the right way for me to structure my argument? Do I talk about financials and operations and marketing, or do I talk about marketing first, and then operations and financials?”

And just thinking about the logic of what’s going to underpin your argument, and then how do you package and share that idea in a clear and compelling way. And the biggest tide of critical thinking is, with critical thinking you come up with your solution – you figured out what the real problem is and you generated a solution – but unless you actually get to implement that solution, then all that thinking is worthless. So, what The Elegant Pitch does is helps you understand once you have that really cool solution, how do you then make it into something that people will sign off on and give you the resources to implement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well tell me, Mike – is there anything else you want to make to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Mike Figliuolo
I just encourage folks to just pause. When you find yourself reading something, whether it’s in the workplace or on the news or anywhere – anytime you feel that reaction, just pause and say, “Okay, what’s really going on here?” And parse that and say, “What are the facts, and what are my assessments?” So you see a colleague do something in the workplace and we kind of blow up at it – “Joe is such a jerk and I can’t believe he did that” – it’s like, “Hang on, hang on a second.”

Let’s look at the facts of the situation. So, Joe did this. Joe left the printer cover open and therefore the printer wasn’t working.” That’s the fact of the matter. Now let’s draw an assessment from that; let’s come up with other possible causes of what’s going on. Maybe Joe didn’t notice that he left it open, maybe Joe meant to leave it open and he really is a jerk. But before we just jump off and say, “Joe is a jerk”, just stop, think about this for a second and separate fact from assessment, and really challenge those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, perfect. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Mike Figliuolo
For me, I go to Hemingway. And the quote is, “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” And that comes from The Old Man and the Sea, and I read it when I was in 8th grade and you’re not exactly the most cerebral person in the world when you’re a 15-year old boy; you’ve got other things on your mind. And I remember I read that quote and it resonated. And I finally figured it out several years later. The quote stuck with me constantly, and I finally figured out why it spoke to me. And what he’s saying is man is not made for defeat. Defeat as a choice, defeat is, “I give up. I’ve tried as hard as I can, and I just give up” – that’s defeat. Destruction is an external force, and that’s me fighting as hard as I can, as long as I can, and I just lose because the world has bested me and I’ve been destroyed.

And what Hemingway’s saying is man is not made for defeat; it’s not in our nature as human beings to give up, it’s not how we’re wired. A man can be destroyed, but not defeated. So anytime I’m sitting there and feeling like something’s going wrong in my life, something’s going wrong with the business, we just lost a big account – whatever it is. And you sit there and you want to throw your hands in the air, it’s like, “Hang on. A man is not made for defeat, so what are you going to do about this? How are you going to tackle this problem that is before you?” And it’s always helped me reorient my thinking during those most challenging moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Mike Figliuolo
I can’t say any of mine, right? So I’m not allowed to say any of my books. Let’s see. One that I always go to is called The Obstacle is the Way, and it’s basically an exploration of stoicism as it was developed by Marcus Aurelius. Now, I know that sounds like some weighty stuff. The book is like 180 pages long; the first 90 is a study of what is stoicism and who are some famous stoics, and I’m not talking just about Greeks and Romans. He looks at business people, current business people who’ve taken a stoic approach to life as well.

And then the second half of the book is how can you apply the principles of stoicism to your life and be able to get through adversity, get over those obstacles that you face. And the reason the book resonated for me is when you go to West Point, which is where I did my undergrad, West Point is it an institution that sort of beats stoicism into you. It’s just daily adversity for four years and you best learn how to overcome those types of obstacles. So the book itself, The Obstacle is the Way, does a really nice job of capturing that school of thought, and then making it something that’s accessible and practical and applicable.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Mike Figliuolo
Are we talking hand tools?

Mike Figliuolo
Yeah, for me it’s always just been the good old hammer. I’m a simple guy at heart. I was a tank platoon leader; when something was broken, you got out the hammer, you got out the ranch, and you got out the baling wire, because it’s one of those three things that’s going to solve your problem. I guess where I’m going with that is, I like simple tools. The tools that we teach in classes, the frameworks that we use tend to be very simple – the 5 “Why’s”, the 7 “So what’s”, a logic map, because if a tool is simple and you understand how to use it, you’re going to use it more frequently and eventually get really, really good with it.

And if I give you a big, complex tool with a lot of different moving parts and it’s got to be plugged in and it’s got 18 steps before you can use it, you’re not going to use it. You’re not going to use it and you’re never going to build any sort of facility with it; you’re going to be frustrated by that tool because it’s so complex. So, for me, I think a hammer is a pretty good metaphor for how I think about learning and training and how we apply our craft in the classroom.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Mike Figliuolo
A favorite habit. A favorite habit is getting up same time every day and hitting the same morning routine every day, on days where it’s possible. If I’m getting on a plane – okay, the routine’s out the window. But it’s get up, hit the desk, read the news, update the finances, clear out some of the email from the night before, shower, get changed, have the green tea, and then start in on the day. But just that routine in the morning kind of gets the body moving, gets the brain moving in a certain direction, and it generates that initial momentum for me, that carries through the rest of the day. If you want to mess me up on a given day, change my morning routine. Screw something up in that sequence and I’m just off. And it may be just that I’m obsessive about the way my world works – I don’t know, but that routine is something that I encourage people to find ’cause it gets you in that rhythm pretty quickly each day.

Mike Figliuolo
I go to personal conversations really, from coaching or from classrooms, and I think one of the biggest things that’s always had a pretty powerful impact on folks when I’ve shared it with them is when I hear somebody say, “Well, I have to do X, Y and Z.” I stop them and I say, “Hang on. You don’t have to. You choose to.” And it’s like, “What? No, I have to go to this meeting with my boss.” I say, “No, you don’t. You choose to go to the meeting with your boss, because you understand there are consequences and you are choosing not to accept a different set of consequences. But you don’t have to do anything.”

And just by reframing that and helping people understand, “I am making a choice here” versus being forced to do something, it all of a sudden allows people to regain control of their lives. When you look at somebody who says, “My life is out of control”, they basically outsourced the ability to make decisions to the world around them. And you’ll hear them say a lot, “Well, I have to do this, I have to do that, I have to do that”, and they’ve given up control, and therefore they feel out of control and it’s very disconcerting.

Just by that small change in, “Hey, I choose to be on this interview right now, I choose to not send my dogs to daycare when I’m going to be on the interview, and the consequences.” I’ve got a poodle looking at me scratching to get in the room, and I’ve got a Jack Russell playing with a tennis ball over here and I’m hoping both of them don’t bark. But that was a choice – I don’t have to have them in the house when I do this; I made a choice, and there’s consequences to every choice we make.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Mike Figliuolo
They should go to ThoughtLeadersLLC.com. And you can find my contact info there, and our blog is there, and we share a lot of great info on the blog on a pretty regular basis.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mike Figliuolo
Stop and think. Just stop and think – before you say something, before you react, before you send that email where you’re upset, or you file that complaint, or you launch that new initiative – just stop and think. Think for like five minutes about the 5 “Why’s”, the 7 “So what’s”; think through what’s fact and what’s assessment. Just stop and think, because you’re going to get to a much better solution.

Mike Figliuolo
Great, thank you very much for having me.